Hun­wick steady, but mis­take costly

De­fense­man showed rust car­ry­ing puck

The Buffalo News - - NHL - By Lance Lysowski

Matt Hun­wick’s fourth game of the sea­son will be re­mem­bered by his big­gest mis­take. The Buf­falo Sabres’ 33-year-old de­fense­man com­mit­ted a neu­tral-zone turnover that pinned him and his team­mates in their own end late in the third pe­riod.

The Win­nipeg Jets cap­i­tal­ized when Blake Wheeler scored the go-ahead goal with 3:55 re­main­ing in reg­u­la­tion, and they held on to beat the Sabres, 3-1, Sun­day in KeyBank Cen­ter.

Though the loss pre­vented Buf­falo (27-21-6) from win­ning back-to-back games for the first time since Dec. 11-13, Hun­wick helped the Sabres have a sec­ond con­sec­u­tive strong de­fen­sive per­for­mance.

“He was very steady,” Sabres coach Phil Hous­ley said of Hun­wick. “His gaps were good. He was good in the de­fen­sive zone. He was strong on the puck. I liked the way he was pass­ing the puck on the out­let. He looked like his nor­mal self out there: very steady.”

Hun­wick was an un­ex­pected ad­di­tion to the Sabres’ lineup be­cause Zach Bo­gosian, who played 22 min­utes, 39 sec­onds in a 3-1 win over Detroit on Satur­day, is day-to-day with a lower-body in­jury. That pre­sented a predica­ment for Hous­ley since Bo­gosian is one of only two right-handed de­fense­men on the ros­ter.

Jake McCabe, who is left­handed, was al­ready play­ing on right side, and Hun­wick, another lefty, had played only three games all sea­son. Bo­gosian also is among the Sabres’ top penal­tykillers and av­er­ages the sec­ond­most ice time among the team’s de­fense­men at 21:38.

Yet, hours be­fore puck drop Sun­day, Hous­ley ex­pressed con­fi­dence in Hun­wick rather than de­tail­ing what Bo­gosian’s ab­sence could mean for a team that had al­lowed four or more goals in eight of its pre­vi­ous 11 games.

Paired with Ras­mus Dahlin, Hun­wick re­sponded by help­ing the Sabres hold the Jets to 29 shots on goal, though he was on the ice for 12 shot at­tempts for and 19 against.

“We did a pretty good job for the ma­jor­ity of the game in terms of our struc­ture in the Dzone,” Hun­wick said. “Ob­vi­ously, a very good team, tough on the forecheck. They turn pucks over. They made it dif­fi­cult on us, but I thought for the ma­jor­ity of the game, we played pretty well.”

Hun­wick, who was ac­quired from Pitts­burgh along with Conor Sheary in June, did not be­gin skat­ing with the Sabres un­til De­cem­ber be­cause of a neck in­jury suf­fered dur­ing an off­sea­son work­out. He played con­sec­u­tive games af­ter mak­ing his sea­son de­but in Bos­ton on Dec. 16.

Hun­wick has played only twice in 20 games since, de­spite play­ing well de­fen­sively in a 5-4 win in Colum­bus on Jan. 29. Though Hun­wick played on the right side for 14:35 Sun­day against Win­nipeg, he was on the ice for less than four min­utes in the sec­ond pe­riod be­cause the Sabres had four power plays.

On one hand, he fared well with­out the puck, but his rust showed while car­ry­ing it.

With the score tied late in the third pe­riod, Hun­wick turned the puck over in the neu­tral zone when he, Dahlin and Kyle Ok­poso needed a line change. The Jets charged into the of­fen­sive zone and cap­i­tal­ized when Mark Scheifele’s pick gave Josh Mor­ris­sey enough room to find Wheeler open in front of the net for a 2-1 lead.

Hun­wick and Dahlin were caught on the same side of the net, leav­ing no one to cover Wheeler in the slot. That shift lasted 1:43 for Hun­wick and Dahlin, and 1:55 for Ok­poso.

“We didn’t get it in at the red line,” Hun­wick said of the goa­head goal. “I thought the ma­jor­ity of that end-zone cov­er­age we did pretty well but got beat on the wall. We just lost track of one guy. That’s what hap­pens some­times when you get tired, you make men­tal mis­takes.”

The Sabres’ off-day Mon­day will al­low Bo­gosian ad­di­tional time to rest. How­ever, they won’t have a prac­tice be­fore Tues­day night’s game against the New York Is­lan­ders. If Bo­gosian is un­avail­able, Hun­wick, Nathan Beaulieu or some­one in Rochester will have to step in.

Casey Nel­son, a right-handed de­fense­man, will com­plete his con­di­tion­ing as­sign­ment with Rochester this week, which would po­ten­tially give the Sabres nine healthy de­fense­men if Bo­gosian is back.

James P. McCoy/Buf­falo News

Sabres de­fense­man Matt Hun­wick, right, played a “steady” game against the Jets Sun­day af­ter be­ing an un­ex­pected ad­di­tion to the lineup af­ter Zach Bo­gosian suf­fered a lower-body in­jury.

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