Rasmus Dahlin’s heroics, and 7 other Sabres thoughts from a win over the Lightning

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TAMPA, Fla. — Rasmus Dahlin joked that he felt sharp in overtime of the Buffalo Sabres’ 3-2 win over the Tampa Bay Lightning on Thursday because his ice-time numbers were down. Dahlin came into this game with seven consecutive games of at least 29 minutes of ice time, and two consecutive games of more than 30 minutes.

So when he had played 25 minutes at the end of the third period on Thursday, Dahlin still had more to give. Maybe that’s why he had the vigor to dig down for another 2:55 of ice time in overtime. And he made the most of it, finding one last burst of speed to crash in from the point on the power play to one-time a Casey Mittelstadt pass into the back of the net for an overtime goal.

“Today was less than usual, so I had more energy,” Dahlin said with a smile. “No, you kind of get used to it and you have to take care of the body outside of the rink. What was it today? 27:55? See, that’s good. More energy. More sharp.”

Dahlin has been a workhorse for the Sabres since he returned from the All Star Game in Toronto. In February, he lead the NHL in average time on ice by more than a minute. And he was only on the ice for one goal against at five-on-five in February. The Sabres outscored opponents 15-6 in all situations with Dahlin on the ice during the month.

“He’s an amazing competitive player and person,” Sabres coach Don Granato said. “He’s the full, complete package. Willing to play defensive. I don’t think he gets credit for how good he has become defensively. I think if you polled the players in the NHL on that, he’s one guy I’m sure they don’t want to play against because he’s physical, strong and determined defensively. And then you add the offensive side to it. He’s been dialed in for us.”

All Mittelstadt could do was laugh when asked about the way Dahlin keeps logging massive minutes while continuing to contribute on every inch of the ice.

“If I was surprised I would tell you, but I’m not,” Mittelstadt said. “That’s what he does. He’s one of the best in the world, like I’ve said before. If not the best in the world. We’re lucky to have him.”

Here’s what else we learned from the Sabres’ win over the Lightning.

1. Tage Thompson is starting to find a rhythm. After scoring a net-front goal against the Panthers, Thompson got a power-play goal against the Lightning when he ripped a wrist shot over Andrei Vasilevskiy’s blocker into the top corner of the net. The power play was clunky, but it didn’t matter because Thompson’s shot did the work. That was the case often last season, and has not been as common an occurrence this season. After 47 goals last season, Thompson has just 18 this season. The Sabres would have loved to have seen this version of Thompson earlier in the season, but he’s starting to look like the player who filled the scoresheet last season.

“He’s got some swag now,” Dahlin said. “He’s that type of guy that has to just not give an ‘F’ out there and just play his game. That’s what he’s doing right now.”

2. Thompson also helped make the game-winning goal happen by driving the net to draw the penalty that put the Sabres on the power play. Dahlin credited Sabres assistant coach Matt Ellis for drawing up the play that led to the power-play goal in overtime. Granato said Ellis was studying four-on-three scenarios this afternoon, knowing that could pop up in overtime. The set play worked to perfection. It’s been a rough year for the Sabres’ power play, and Ellis has taken some heat for that, but the power play helped make the difference in the game.

3. Alex Tuch kept the Sabres in the game with an early goal. The Lightning were having a strong first period when Tuch intercepted a Lightning breakout pass, turned around and put a quick shot on net. That goal started because of the way the Sabres forechecked. The Sabres lost possession of the puck, but the way Tuch got back into the play to intercept the pass was impressive. Granato should show that one on loop in the team’s next video session.

4. Granato shortened his bench in the third period of this game and that meant Peyton Krebs got only one shift in the third period. Granato bumped Krebs down to the fourth line at the start of the game. After six games playing a more offensive role as the center for Zach Benson and JJ Peterka, Krebs was playing with Zemgus Girgensons and Eric Robinson.

Granato said he wanted to try different combinations specifically because of the matchup with the Lightning. So that doesn’t necessarily mean Krebs’ time as a third-liner is over. When Krebs is on the ice with Zach Benson and JJ Peterka at five-on-five this season, the Sabres have 60 percent of the shot attempts and 57 percent of the high-danger scoring chances. In Krebs’ 10:25 of ice time at five-on-five on Thursday, the Sabres had four scoring chances and only had one against. They also had 78 percent of the shot attempts when Krebs was on the ice at even strength. His performance hasn’t dipped, so the ice time should come back.

5. Krebs wasn’t the only player to see less ice time in the third period. Jeff Skinner had three shifts in the third period, and Kyle Okposo had two shifts. Granato wanted to roll with the players who were playing the best. And he clearly had a feel for this matchup, because the line combinations and bench shortening worked.

6. Erik Johnson wasn’t on the ice for Buffalo’s morning skate in Tampa and was not in the lineup against the Lightning. The team said Johnson is out with an illness, but Granato also mentioned a lingering injury when he spoke after the morning skate. Johnson missed a game due to illness last week but returned to play on Sunday without issue. Johnson completed a workout on the exercise bike after the team’s game on Tuesday and spent the entire game on the bench. The messaging on his absence is curious, particularly given the fact that the NHL trade deadline is just one week away. Johnson will be a name to watch as March 8 approaches.

7. Ukko-Pekka Luukkonen only needed to make 21 saves on 23 shots on Thursday, but it was another steady effort from him as the Lightning were all over the Sabres early on. Luukkonen has started seven consecutive games for the Sabres and 10 of the last 11. That’s going to have to change soon. The Sabres have a back-to-back with games against the Golden Knights and Winnipeg Jets on Saturday and Sunday. They then have two days off before another back-to-back against the Maple Leafs and Predators on Wednesday and Thursday. The Sabres recalled Dustin Tokarski on Thursday as a precaution and to take some of the practice workload away from Luukkonen.

(Photo of Rasmus Dahlin: Mark LoMoglio / NHLI via Getty Images)





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Alexandra Williams
Alexandra Williams
Alexandra Williams is a writer and editor. Angeles. She writes about politics, art, and culture for LinkDaddy News.

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