Tage Records a Gordie Howe Hat Trick as Sabres Hold Off Hurricanes’ Late Push

The Buffalo Sabres were expected to dominate the Carolina Hurricanes who were playing a largely AHL roster on Tuesday night. The Sabres, playing all but one of their expected starters did just that in the first period of the game. Complacency seemed to creep in midway through the second period and the Hurricanes nearly tied the game while dominating puck possession and pace of play in the third period. Ultimately, the Sabres held on to a 4-2 win, but the performance was not the type of 60 minute effort one would hope for.

For people like me that are intrigued by the upcoming captain announcement, there were some hints to be gleaned from the uniforms worn tonight. Kyle Okposo, Zemus Girgensons and Rasmus Dahlin each wore an ‘A’ tonight. Given this was announced to be close to the expected roster and line combinations for the start of the regular season, it would stand to reason that these will likely be the Captain and Alternates for the regular season as well. People following this announcement are likely not surprised by the three players chosen, but it does eliminate the thought that Alex Tuch would be in consideration for the C or A. We likely won’t know for sure until just before the season opener against the Senators.

The Sabres started off as expected in the first period. They quickly looked like the superior team and dominated play. Hurricanes’ goalie Pyotr Kochetkov was forced to make several tough saves as the Sabres kept the JV Hurricane’s hemmed in there zone. It was about 7 minutes in to the game that the Sabres broke through on a quick transition as Tage Thompson made a breakout pass to Jeff Skinner setting up a two on one with Vinnie Hinostroza. Skinner saucered a beautiful pass to Hinostroza to get him in alone on Kochetkov where he neatly finished the play.

Hinostroza from Skinner and Thompson

Buffalo continued to dominate play in the first. Just 4 minutes later, Tage Thompson collected a loose puck in the defensive zone and showed off his long stride to fly down the left wing and past Ethan Bear for a breakaway goal.

Thompson unassisted

Tage continued to fill the stat sheet after responding to a big hit on Vinnie Hinostoza by Jalen Chatfield. Tage immediately grabbed Chatfield and a spirited scrap ensued. Thompson was assessed a fighting major, a slashing minor, and the 10-minute misconduct for instigating that comes with it. And there we have it, a Gordie Howe hat trick (a natural one at that) in the first period.

I have long thought stiffer penalties are needed for the fights that stem from reactions to clean hits. I hate the disruption it causes to the flow of the game and often stops scoring opportunities that can be generated by both giving and absorbing big hits to make a play. Even though in this case it cost Tage 17 minutes in penalties, I am glad to see it. I also appreciate a player stepping in to defend a teammate and think Tage did the right thing there.

Dylan Cozens had been generating chances and playing well all period. But while killing off a cross-checking penalty by Rasmus Dahlin, he capitalized. Cozens picked off an attempted drop pass at the blue line and took off on a breakaway and went bar down glove side on Kochetkov to the give the Sabres a 3-0 lead.

Cozens unassisted.

The Sabres did not keep the same energy into the second period. The Hurricanes took advantage and controlled play in the second period. About half way through the period the pace of play really slowed and it started to look more like a local pick up night. The Sabres seemed to be looking for more breakaways and highlights, but weren’t putting in the work needed to make it happen. They escaped the period still up three but the momentum of the game had changed.

The third period was more of the same. Sloppy play in the defensive zone caught up with Buffalo just under 2 minutes into the third. The Canes worked the puck deep in the Sabres zone and move it to the net front. Casey Mittelstadt was able to intercept a pass attempt by Tuukka Tieksola, but skated into Alex Tuch and turned it over to Jamieson Rees who slipped the puck past Craig Anderson.

Just 19 seconds later an ill-advised pass attempt to the middle of the defensive zone by JJ Peterka was intercepted by Ethan Bear. Bear hit Malte Stromwell who lasered a wrist shot that Craig Anderson did not appear to see at all.

The pace of play picked up a bit after the second Carolina goal with the teams swapping chances. But neither goalie would surrender another goal in this one. With under 90 seconds left in the game and the Hurricanes’ net empty, Dylan Cozens added to his strong performance by taking the puck away and finding JJ Peterka for an empty net goal to seal the win.

All in all it was an up and down game for the Sabres. Thompson obviously had a strong game as did Dylan Cozens. Mittelstadt, Tuch and Quinn seemed to struggle to generate consistent effort, but they did have a couple of strong scoring chances early in the first period. Defensively, they team seemed more in control in their own end, but that 19 second stretch at the start of the third period is a concerning return of an all too common occurrence during the last few disappointing season.

The Sabres finish the preseason Friday against the Penguins.

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