By Erica Whyte
|CHRIS TAYLOR POST-GAME|
|JUSTIN BAILEY POST-GAME|
|HUDSON FASCHING POST-GAME|
After three hard-fought games, the Buffalo Sabres concluded their Prospects Challenge weekend with a 5-3 loss to the Pittsburgh Penguins Monday at HarborCenter.
For Buffalo, goals were had by Justin Bailey and C.J. Smith, both of whom had two-point nights, and Brendan Guhle, who notched his second straight three-point game.
Lukas Bengtsson, Thomas Di Paulo, and Jan Drozg each got goals for Pittsburgh, and Zach Aston-Reese tallied two goals on the evening.
A pass from Cliff Pu to Guhle on the power-play opened up the scoring on the night. But Pittsburgh's Di Paulo answered back by launching the puck past Jonas Johansson with 15 seconds remaining in the first period.
During the sandwich period, the Sabres were hit with back-to-back penalties and the Penguins would capitalize. Aston-Reese converted on the 5-on-3 two-man advantage with a snipe, giving the Penguins the lead for the first time all game. Two minutes later, Guhle fired the puck across the ice to Bailey, who beat the defender on the left side and slid the puck between netminder Alex D'Orio's legs.
With five minutes left in the second period, an unlucky bounce hit a Sabres defenseman and the puck trickled into the net, giving the Penguins a 3-2 lead. Guhle then made another perfect pass, this time to Smith, to tie the game up at 3-3.
A chippy third period led to a goal by Drozg, followed by an empty-netter by Aston-Reese to seal the win for Pittsburgh.
Despite the loss, Sabres GM Jason Botterill was overall pleased with Buffalo's efforts throughout the weekend, considering how much change is going on with the club right now.
"There are a lot of new things going on here. New systems, new players to the organization, and although the group, I think, was pretty nervous trying to make a good first impression on Friday, as that game progressed, and throughout the entire weekend, we were extremely happy with the commitment and the battle level out there,” Botterill said. "Overall, I thought it was a really positive weekend."
Forward Hudson Fasching, who was one of three assistant captains for all three games, praised the efforts of the new management and their goals of creating winning teams in both Rochester and Buffalo. It’s the new culture he’s excited about most.
"To have a winning culture both in the AHL and the NHL is something that's been said multiple times around the program, and I think it's something incredibly important,” said Fasching. “To be winning hockey games, and to do it on a consistent basis, is huge. And I think to have that commitment, it shows a lot about the character of the guys we have working with us."
Bailey feels mentally stronger
Bailey's goal on Monday exemplified the physical tools he's displayed throughout his time as a prospect for the Sabres. The forward split two defenders as he burst over the blue line and toward the slot, from where he went five-hole with a quick wrist shot.
His goal on Saturday, while also an impressive feat of skill, may have had more to do with a newfound mentality. Bailey had been held off the scoresheet in the first game of the weekend and had missed on a breakaway earlier in the contest before scoring shorthanded against the Bruins.
In the past, he said, that first miss might have stuck with him. Bailey saw a sports psychologist during the offseason to overcome that mindset.
"In my head I kind of noticed that it was something that was a weak spot in my game," he said. "You look at some guys in the NHL, they might not be the most physically gifted, they might not be the most skilled guy on the ice, but they have that mental game pat down and that's how they play for so many years. I noticed that when I was up for those games in Buffalo, that I felt like I was in my head a lot, and just tried to clear my head and play to the best of my ability."
Sabres are optimistic on Nylander
Alexander Nylander missed the last two games of the Prospects Challenge with a lower-body injury, but Botterill said the team remains hopeful that he'll be ready when the on-ice portion of training camp opens on Friday.
"We'll reassess that throughout the week, but we're very hopeful," he said. "There's no need to push anything here in a prospects camp. Getting in you can tell that he's worked very hard in the offseason back in Sweden, we saw it at development camp … Hopefully it's a scenario where we take care of it now so it's not a nagging thing throughout the year. I can't tell you 100 percent that he'll be ready for main camp, but we're very optimistic."
Sabres open camp Thursday
Buffalo will open its main training camp on Thursday, Sept. 14, when veteran players are scheduled to report for testing and physicals. Beginning Friday, Sept. 15, the team’s practice sessions at HarborCenter will be open to the public, with practices broken down into multiple sessions throughout each day.
The Sabres will then open their preseason slate of games on Monday, Sept. 18, against the Carolina Hurricanes at KeyBank Center at 7 p.m.