Observations: Sabres lose Mattias Samuelsson to injury in 1-0 shutout loss


Staff member

Rasmus Dahlin couldn’t avoid the hit.

One of the officials was in the way as the Buffalo Sabres defenseman touched the puck behind his net in the second period Saturday.

Dahlin, the Sabres’ representative at the All-Star Game for a third consecutive season, slowly crumbled to the ice when he was elbowed in the head by Vancouver Canucks center J.T. Miller.

Owen Power skated over and grappled with Miller until the officials pulled them apart. It was the second time in four minutes that the Sabres lost one of their top defenseman to a hit to the head and neither one led to a power play.

“It’s a hit to the head,” lamented Dahlin, who returned to the game. “It is what it is.”

The hits incensed the Sabres, but neither distracted them from their mission to try to score on Canucks goalie Thatcher Demko. Dylan Cozens hit the crossbar. Casey Mittelstadt was in position to deliver the tying goal, only to watch his shot snared by Demko. JJ Peterka’s one-timer from the high slot in the final minutes sent the puck into Demko’s chest.

The Sabres weren’t interested in celebrating a moral victory, though. None of their 23 shots on goal beat Demko and the 1-0 loss to the Canucks at KeyBank Center was their third time they were shut out this season.

Buffalo (18-21-4) has lost two of three games to begin a six-game homestand that may determine if it has any shot of climbing the standings in the Eastern Conference.

“We’re right there,” said Mittelstadt. “I think we’re on the right track. It’s just a matter of we’ve got to get hot soon and get going here.”

Sam Lafferty’s goal 2:05 into the second period was the difference of the game and the only time that Vancouver managed to score against Buffalo’s goalie, Ukko-Pekka Luukkonen, who made 23 saves while starting his second game in a row. The Canucks (29-11-3) had another goal in the second period wiped out by an offsides review and their top line, led by Miller and Elias Pettersson, combined for only three shots on goal with zero points.

It was an impressive defensive performance by the Sabres, who played with five defensemen for most of the game because Mattias Samuelsson was unable to return to the game after he was elbowed in the head during the first shift of the second period. They didn’t do enough to score against Demko, though. Buffalo had one 5-on-5 high-danger scoring chance after the first period, according to Natural Stat Trick, and too often Demko was able to see the puck as he prepared to make a save.

The Sabres’ best chance of the game occurred late in the second period during a power play. Alex Tuch sent a pass across the slot to Mittelstadt below the right faceoff dot. Mittelstadt couldn’t see it coming through the Canucks’ defense, forcing him to settle the puck before he attempted a high shot. It gave Demko enough time to make a spectacular glove save that kept Vancouver ahead 1-0.

“That one stung,” said Mittelstadt.

Cozens tagged the crossbar with a one-timer during a Sabres power play early in the third period, but they couldn’t beat Demko. There’s no shame in failing to score against him. Demko, after all, is arguably the best goalie in the NHL this season. He has 22 wins and four shutouts in 31 starts. But it’s another difficult offensive performance for Buffalo. Though the Sabres’ 5-on-5 scoring is on pace with last season, they rank 22nd in the league in goals per game (2.95). They’ve scored three or fewer goals in 23 of their last 31 games. An encouraging defensive performance wasn’t enough to ease the pain of another loss at home.

“We did a nice job of limiting them, nice job to play hard, had chances to win,” said Sabres coach Don Granato. “But nobody’s going to be satisfied with that. I can assure you that our group is not. And obviously I’m not.”

Here are other observations from the game:

1. Unnecessary hits

No one should be surprised that Erik Johnson challenged Miller to a fight in response to the hit on Dahlin.

Players across the NHL have made it clear this season that they’re going to police hits on star players if officials aren’t willing to do it. And though Miller wasn’t given a five-minute penalty because he made contact with Dahlin’s arm first, it was the type of hit that should be removed from the sport. Miller raised his left shoulder to attempt the high hit when it would have been easy to finish a clean check instead. Dahlin returned to the game later in the second period.

It wasn’t the only bad call by the officials Saturday, either. They also missed Filip Hronek’s hit to the head on the first shift of the second period that forced Samuelsson to miss the rest of the game. Granato did not have an update after the game on Samuelsson, who, along with Dahlin, landed in concussion protocol.

2. Filling in

Zemgus Girgensons helped the Sabres keep the deficit at one goal in the second period.

The longtime Buffalo winger shifted to defense with Samuelsson out, Dahlin still being evaluated by medical staff and Erik Johnson in the penalty box for fighting Miller. Girgensons worked alongside Connor Clifton to stabilize the situation until Dahlin returned. Girgensons even finished the shift with a shot on Vancouver’s net that led to a post-whistle scrum around Luukkonen.

“I heard he played great,” Dahlin said of Girgensons. “He’s such a good teammate. He does whatever to have a chance to win.”

3. Stepping up

Sabres rookie defenseman Ryan Johnson did not have the most difficult matchups, but he played well in a bigger role with Samuelsson out.

Johnson finished with 22:22 of ice time and two shots on goal with four shot attempts. His 5-on-5 ice time (19:37) was second on the team, and the Sabres had 58 percent of the shot attempts when he was on the ice. They used Dahlin to shut down the Canucks’ top line of Miller, Pettersson and Brock Boeser.

“Reliable,” said Granato. “He had to step up. I was very happy with his game, and he’s moving along. Obviously, he’s very young in his career, so to show improvement is every day is great.”

4. Late surge

Tage Thompson’s line helped the Sabres take control in the first period.

They had a 9-3 advantage in shots on goal with 8:20 left despite spending two minutes on the penalty kill. Zach Benson almost redirected a pass from Eric Robinson past Demko. Thompson got a rebound in front that forced Vancouver’s goalie to make a save. Yet the Canucks almost took a 1-0 lead when Buffalo left Nils Aman open in the slot to take a shot on Luukkonen. Then, Peyton Krebs and Girgensons committed turnovers that gave their opponent more time in the offensive zone.

The Sabres managed to prevent a goal, ensuring it was 0-0 at the first intermission.

5. Next

The Sabres are scheduled to face the San Jose Sharks in KeyBank Center on Monday at noon.