Ny­lan­der shines as Sabres snap skid

He reg­is­ters 2 as­sists in 4-3 OT vic­tory

The Buffalo News - - NHL - By Lance Lysowski

When an­other loss seemed in­evitable, the Buf­falo Sabres awak­ened the Key­Bank Cen­ter crowd with five glass-wob­bling hits in a span of 27 sec­onds late in the third pe­riod Sun­day night. With the game slip­ping away again in the 3-on-3 over­time, Carter Hut­ton de­liv­ered six cru­cial saves.

And when their fate was de­ter­mined in the shootout, Sam Rein­hart scored in the third round to help snap a seven-game los­ing streak, se­cured in a 4-3 win over the St. Louis Blues. It was the type of re­sult the Sabres (31-32-9) des­per­ately needed — they had won only two of their pre­vi­ous 15 games — and bol­stered the con­fi­dence of a ros­ter starv­ing for suc­cess.

While the afore­men­tioned hero­ics pre­vented an­other game from slip­ping away, perhaps no in­di­vid­ual per­for­mance was more im­por­tant for the Sabres than that of 21-year-old winger Alex Ny­lan­der, who earned his first ca­reer multi-point NHL game with two as­sists.

Though Ny­lan­der did not score, the for­mer top prospect is start­ing to show his team­mates and coach Phil Hous­ley that he can help this sea­son and be­yond.

”Touch­ing the puck more, get­ting more com­fort­able,” Ny­lan­der ac­knowl­edged. “I’m feel­ing a lot bet­ter from my first game al­ready. I’m ex­cited and happy for that. I just want to keep work­ing hard every day here and, ob­vi­ously, get bet­ter.”

Ny­lan­der played only 11 min­utes, 40 sec­onds and fin­ished with two of the Sabres’ 34 shots on goal, yet his 15 shifts were in stark con­trast to his per­for­mance dur­ing a 3-0 loss against Dal­las on Tues­day night — his first NHL game in al­most one year and only the eighth of his ca­reer.

He did not look ten­ta­tive in any of the three zones, and he did not hes­i­tate when faced with the de­ci­sion to either pass or shoot. His shot on Blues goalie Jake Allen early in the third pe­riod gave Conor Sheary a sec­ond-chance scor­ing op­por­tu­nity, though Sheary was un­able to dis­lodge the puck from Allen’s leg pads.

With the score tied 1-1 in the first pe­riod, Ny­lan­der dug a puck out of the cor­ner near his own blue line and quickly found Evan Ro­drigues with a pass through the neu­tral zone. Ro­drigues and Sheary skated down the ice for a 2-on-1, and the for­mer broke an 18-game score­less drought with a wrist shot from the slot at 14:48 into the first pe­riod for a 2-1 lead.

”I’ve been try­ing to talk to him a lot, mak­ing the game a bit eas­ier for him,” Ro­drigues, who played with Ny­lan­der in Rochester, said of his line­mate. “He has high-level skill, ob­vi­ously. When you can let him know he has time or when he has to make a quick play it’s def­i­nitely go­ing to help out his game. I think he’s start­ing to show off his skill.”

The Sabres were out-shot 6-1 dur­ing the first six min­utes of the sec­ond pe­riod un­til Ras­mus Dahlin made a break­out pass through the neu­tral zone to Ny­lan­der, who chose to pass to Sheary on the 2-on-1 be­cause Blues de­fense­man Robert Bor­tuzzo slid to­ward him.

Sheary col­lected the tape-to­tape pass and shot over Allen’s blocker for a 3-1 lead at 7:46 into the sec­ond pe­riod. It was the sec­ond time in as many nights Ny­lan­der cre­ated a scor­ing chance with a pass to Sheary, though nei­ther con­nected on a goal dur­ing a 4-2 loss in Carolina on Satur­day night.

”(Satur­day) night, I prob­a­bly owed him a cou­ple with some of the passes he gave me and tonight we cap­i­tal­ized,” Sheary said. “I think it’s just a con­fi­dence thing. He was here for a cou­ple games maybe get­ting his feet wet and these last cou­ple he’s been re­ally good.”

Ny­lan­der, drafted eighth over­all by the Sabres in 2016, was re­called from Rochester on March 10, hours be­fore Jack Eichel re­ceived a two-game sus­pen­sion for a hit to the head on Colorado’s Carl Soder­berg. Ny­lan­der had only two ca­reer NHL points and had ap­peared in 165 games in Rochester, record­ing a ca­reer-high 31 points in 49 games this sea­son.

Not only has Ny­lan­der re­mained with the team since Eichel’s re­turn, he was el­e­vated to play with Ro­drigues and Sheary on the sec­ond line.

Those three were among the Sabres’ best play­ers against the Blues (37-27-8), who erased the two-goal deficit with goals from David Per­ron and Bray­den Schenn. Sheary had a teamhigh five shots on goal, while Ro­drigues added four. Ny­lan­der, mean­while, had a 64 per­cent 5-on-5 shot dif­fer­en­tial and a team-best plus-2 rat­ing.

”He’s got­ten his step now,” Hous­ley said of Ny­lan­der. “He’s mov­ing with the puck and he makes plays. Re­ally nice pass to Sheary there. He just seems to get more con­fi­dence as the games go on here, and it’s good to see him con­tribut­ing.”

Jo­han Lars­son broke the score­less tie with a goal 6:42 into the first pe­riod. Hut­ton fin­ished with 30 saves in reg­u­la­tion and over­time be­fore stop­ping Ryan O’Reilly in the third shootout round to clinch the win. Eichel opened the shootout with a goal, and Rein­hart scored his third shootout win­ner of the sea­son, ty­ing Nashville’s Ryan Jo­hansen and the New York Rangers’ Kevin Shat­tenkirk for most in the NHL in 2018-19. Rein­hart is one shy of the Sabres’ sin­gle-sea­son record set by Ales Ko­ta­lik in 2006-07.

Still, the Sabres will miss the play­offs for an eighth con­sec­u­tive sea­son and en­tered Sun­day tied for the fewest points in the league since they won their 10th game in a row on Nov. 27. They have not won back-to-back games since Dec. 13. These fi­nal 10 games are as much about in­di­vid­ual progress as they are about re­sults.

Gen­eral Man­ager Ja­son Botterill needs to see who can help the Sabres next sea­son, and Ny­lan­der­ish­op­ing­to­bepartofthe so­lu­tion.

”This was huge for my con­fi­dence,” Ny­lan­der beamed. “It’s awe­some that I get to play with those two guys. This op­por­tu­nity has been great. I’m try­ing to take it.”

Mark Mul­ville/Buf­falo News

Evan Ro­drigues, cen­ter, cel­e­brates his goal with Alexan­der Ny­lan­der and Bran­don Mon­tour dur­ing the first pe­riod at the Key­Bank Cen­ter on Sun­day. Ny­lan­der had two as­sists in the game.

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