DUFF: RISTOLAINEN'S BEST GAME YET?
Brian Duff's analysis of the Sabres final preseason game
The Sabres seven-game preseason schedule has come to an end and with that now come the tough decisions.
While there may have been few bright spots - at least offensively - in the finale against Carolina, there were those that stood out among their peers.
While concluding the preseason with zero points in five games, Flynn did produce three of the 18 shots versus Carolina, after totaling six shots in his previous four games. He was noticeable, which he needs to be with his speed.
Tyler Myers again showed confidence in his decision making, sometimes dominating shifts with his ability to move in down low and battle for loose pucks. His postgame assessments were again honest.
“[Thomas Vanek] made a comment after the game and he’s absolutely correct. Most of the teams in this league play the same way and they came out a lot harder than we did,” Myers said. “They just developed a lot more momentum to start the game and they carried it on in the second period. We just didn’t get after pucks the way we needed to to control the play and our shots on net at the end of the second [only seven] ...that can’t happen if we want to win hockey games.”
It looked that way when watching him live, and upon further review of all of his shifts
Friday night, he was almost flawless. He was poised from the outset, calm with the puck when moving it around the boards or reversing it to his partner.
An early hit on Nathan Gerbe saw Kevin Westgarth come after him aggressively. Didn’t faze him.
A quietly brilliant play came with just under 10 minutes to go in the first, when he chased down a puck at the edge of the trapezoid and was feeling pressure from both sides as Zac Dalpe and Drayson Bowman closed in.
As he reached the boards and took a bit of a hit, he was in no position to get a good stick on the puck, so all in one motion without hesitation he subtly kicked it with his right foot - and with some velocity - all the way around to Ville Leino who was above the hash marks by the boards. An easy exit from the zone would follow.
Just like his first preseason game in Montreal, he was momentarily downed by a shot, as he blocked a Jordan Staal attempt with his right leg. And once again, he never missed a shift.
Even though the power play went 0/4 there were reasons to believe that he could be helpful in this area too. Often this preseason, the Sabres have employed two right-shot defensemen and in these situations Ristolainen looks really comfortable playing the left side. He drifts down into the faceoff circle creating a good shooting angle, and he also wasn’t shy in joining the rush and being the first into the corner to win a battle for possession.
He was given plenty of opportunity on both special teams, playing 3:57 shorthanded and 3:42 on the power-play as part of his 20:32 night.
Another subtle gem came nearly eight minutes into the third. As he swung out from behind the goal to the left of Ryan Miller - and again with two Canes closing in – Ristolainen made a sweet little nine foot pass out in front of the net to Cody Hodgson who was in motion, turned up ice, and started the transition.
There are very few wasted plays by the rookie. I only counted a couple of passes that didn’t connect with teammates, and even when you think he might be in trouble, he has attackers either bounce off of him, or he just looks them off (think Teppo Numminen) and sees them skate right past.
He was also very aware of not screening the goalie in rush situations, something he may have learned from experiences earlier in camp.
Ron Rolston’s assessment of Ristolainen Friday night?
“He probably was our best defenseman and could’ve been one of our better players.”
Does it mean he’ll make the team?
We will find out very soon.