The 2013-14 season came to an end for the Buffalo Sabres on Sunday as they played for the final time this year in front of their home fans.
The New York Islanders pulled out a 4-3 shootout win over the Sabres at First Niagara Center with Brock Nelson scoring the deciding goal.
For Mitchell, it was his first goal as a Sabre.
Connor Knapp made his first career start and stopped 22 of 25 Islanders shots.
“For the coach to show that confidence in me despite really not seeing me play much, just the organization in general putting me in there,” Knapp said. “And obviously it’s a big confidence boost and great to see that kind of competition at this level.”
Knapp became the sixth goaltender to play for the Sabres this season when he relieved an injured Matt Hackett in Boston on Saturday. The Sabres have dressed nine different goaltenders this season, an NHL record according to Elias Sports Bureau.
The Sabres called up Knapp from the Rochester Americans of the American Hockey League on Friday because of injuries to their other goaltenders and because of the playoff push the Amerks are trying to make. Knapp, a sixth-round pick by the Sabres in 2009, has also spent time this season in the ECHL.
“He was OK, actually he was better than OK for the situation that we put him into,” Sabres coach Ted Nolan said. “…I think this will be a real good lesson for him to take in the summertime going forward with his career and how close he is or how far he is from playing at this level on a consistent basis.”
The Sabres wrapped up their season as the last-place team in the NHL and have the best chance to secure the first-overall selection in the 2014 NHL Draft. The draft lottery will be held Tuesday night.
Building through the draft is one way the team can restructure itself. But Nolan is also focused on making sure the players who will be around in the coming years are developing good habits now.
“I’m a strong believer in laying a foundation. If you haven’t got no foundation, your house is going to crumble,” Nolan said. “…Especially some of the young guys we’ve got coming back next year, we gotta make sure the standard has to be set a little bit higher than it was and what it is. We’ll address that starting with our meetings tomorrow.”
While the season was certainly a disappointing one, the players can see that the franchise is working to build a winner and some of the younger players like Marcus Foligno said they already can’t wait for next season’s training camp.
“This group, for how tough the season was, was a pretty close group. Everyone got along with each other and that’s just something that comes with the organization,” he said. “We have unbelievable owners. We have unbelievable fans and the fans deserve a lot better and they are going to get that. So in the future, I hope I’m here for it and I want to be here for it, and I want to be here when we win a championship.”
Jamie McBain scored his sixth goal of the season with 9:33 to play in the first period. Coming up out of the Buffalo end, he picked up speed through the neutral zone and blew by the Islanders defense at the blue line. We wrapped up his coast-to-coast trip by putting a shot on goal that beat goaltender Anders Nilsson on his low glove-hand side.
Knapp got the puck to McNabb and picked up his first career point with the assist. He is the first goalie to record an assist in his first NHL start since Chad Johnson of the New York Rangers accomplished that feat on Jan. 7, 2010 at Atlanta, according to Elias Sports Bureau.
“I didn’t even realize it. Guys were joking about it between the first and second and I didn’t even realize at the time,” Knapp said of the assists.” But I guess [Bruins goaltender Tuukka] Rask had one the other night on me. so a little karma coming back my way.”
Buffalo went ahead 2-0 when Matt Ellis redirected a centering feed from Marcus Foligno 7:23 into the second period. Foligno rushed down the right wing boards and Ellis knocked the pass in on his backhand for his fourth goal of the year.
Jake McCabe recorded the secondary assist on the goal for his first career point.
“As a D-man, you love those second assists,” he said. “A nice breakout pass ends up in a goal, so it was nice to see [Ellis] get that one going hard to the net.”
The Islanders spoiled Knapp’s shutout bid with 3:23 remaining in the second period. While on the power play, Anders Lee jammed in the puck in front of the net to make it 2-1.
Lee scored his second of the game 17 seconds into the third period. He connected on a backhand that beat Knapp.
The game featured three fights, but none more electrifying than Sabres rookie Nicolas Deslauriers’ bout with Islanders defenseman Scott Mayfield. The two traded haymakers early in the third period and Deslauriers’ celebration to the box had most everyone in the arena on their feet.
“He’s a big boy and you see when he plays with a little spirit what can happen,” Nolan said. “The fans here, they like that certain type of game and we haven’t got those type of players yet, but we will get those type of players and we’ll make this a very entertaining product to watch.”
Mitchell scored 9:51 into the third when he deflected a slap shot by Rasmus Ristolainen into the back of the net. However, Nelson tied it up with 3:44 remaining.
In the shootout, Tyler Ennis and Cody Hodgson were unable to score for Buffalo. Nelson made it 1-0 in the bottom of the second round and Ville Leino had a chance to extend the shootout, but was stopped by Nilsson.
Leino finished the season with zero goals in 58 games played.
“There were so many chances and plays that could’ve turned into goals, but it didn’t,” he said. “There were a lot of posts, a lot of good saves. But I don’t know. I guess it’s hard to describe it. It hasn’t really hit me like that that hard.”