Sabres' Thompson has shown early improvement

September 17, 2019

Happy Valley, PA (WGR 550) - The biggest thing I’ve taken away from both the Prospects Challenge and the Sabres first preseason game on Monday is Jason Botterill is getting players that will go to the net.

The Sabres blew a 4-1 third period lead only to win in overtime. I thought the Sabres best player by far was Tage Thompson. He was around the net all night long and was using the size and strength he put on over the summer.

On his first shift Thompson put on a nifty move and almost scored. After watching this team play on the perimeter for years, it’s so refreshing to see Thompson, Dylan Cozens and others playing around the crease screening goalies.

John Gilmour isn’t a big defenseman but boy can he skate. Conor Sheary broke the puck out to Jimmy Vesey and Gilmour not only read the play, but he sprinted past the Pittsburgh D and ripped a goal right under the cross bar. He’s here for depth and I don’t think he’ll hurt the team at all if he needs to be called up due to injuries.

Henri Jokiharju scored in his first game as a Sabre after there was really fast and crisp puck movement. The whole play was started on a 2-on-1 that failed, but nobody stopped. They kept moving the puck and got a goal. I know, it all sounds so simple, but this team couldn't execute simple fundamentals. 

Jokiharju was solid throughout. He got a chance to kill penalties and did a good job.

Now I do have to point out that Pittsburgh had maybe five NHL players in its lineup, but after two periods the Sabres had 37 shots to the Penguins nine.

Buffalo stopped working in the third period as it appeared they thought the game was won. Carter Hutton left the net playing just under 30 minutes. He only saw three shots. Jonas Johansson relieved him and didn’t look good at all. If he was going to be a prospect, I would’ve thought we would’ve seen more progress by now. He'll be back in Cincinnati this season and I don't see him getting much more than that. 

Ramus Dahlin had some great breakout passes, but just like he did in the last few months of last season, he made two horrendous turnovers that wound up in the net.

Cozens had some good chances in the first two periods. Why? Because he was around the net screening the goalie and tipping pucks. He also used his speed to his advantage.

Krueger is trying Jeff Skinner with Evan Rodrigues and in my mind it’s not working. They don’t seem to have much chemistry at all in practice or in this game.

It was good to see a team that was skating and going to the net, but I don’t know how much we can take from it since Pittsburgh had very few of their players.

It’ll be a whole different team in Columbus on Tuesday. Only one or two players will play both games, but I think the first dose of Sabres hockey this season was encouraging.