The final Blue and Gold Scrimmage of training camp is in the books for the Buffalo Sabres, as Team Gold was able to come away victorious over Team Blue by a 6-2 final score.
Like Monday's first Blue and Gold Scrimmage, this game had plenty to like with the speed and pace that the players were playing at. This game on Saturday felt a little more up-tempo than Monday's game, given the fact the 2020-21 season for the Sabres is set to get underway Thursday night against the Washington Capitals.
Here is how the lines looked for both squads on Saturday night:
Hall - Eichel - Thompson
Skinner - Lazar - Sheahan
Biro - Ruotsalainen - Cozens
Dahlin - Montour
Miller - Jokiharju
Samuelsson - Fitzgerald
Olofsson - Staal - Reinhart
Rieder - Eakin - Okposo
Asplund - Mittelstadt - Fogarty
McCabe - Ristolainen
Irwin - Borgen
Davidson - Jones
The first period got off to a flying start for Team Blue, led by the top line of Taylor Hall, Jack Eichel and Tage Thompson.
It was Team Blue getting on the board first after Eichel was able to strip defenseman Rasmus Ristolainen off the puck, creating a turnover in the neutral zone. After Thompson tapped the loose puck ahead for Hall to start the rush the other way, Thompson got back in a position to accept a pass from Hall, and the big 6-foot-5 forward was able to fire a shot past goalie Linus Ullmark.
However, Team Gold was able to tie the game at 1-1 after a bad giveaway by forward Jeff Skinner in the defensive zone. Skinner was attempting to take the puck to start the transition the other way, but he failed to get a hold on the puck and it bounced to a wide-open Tobias Rieder in front of the Blue net. Rieder was then able to put his backhander past goalie Carter Hutton for his second goal in as many scrimmages.
However, the Hall-Eichel-Thompson trio went right back to work shortly after as this time, it was a beautiful no-look feed from behind the net from Eichel to Hall, who shot it past an unsuspecting Ullmark to give Team Blue the 2-1 lead.
While Team Blue got out to the hot start through 20 minutes, the tide of the game started to change in Team Gold's direction early on.
The Gold Team came out of the intermission with a fire under them and started to maintain some good ice time in the Blue zone.
The game was evened up at 2-2 nearly six-and-a-half minutes into the second period when Kyle Okposo got on the board off a rebound in front. After defenseman Brandon Davidson got a nice pass from behind the net from Eric Staal, his shot ended up coming hot off the pad of Hutton. The rebound came right to Okposo, who had a couple of hacks at it before it finally went in past the veteran netminder.
Team Gold continued to press and keep up the intensity on Team Blue, and that intensity finally paid off with less than three minutes remaining in the period.
After a dump-in that failed to be corralled by Hutton in behind the net, forward Rasmus Asplund was able to chip the puck towards the front of the Blue net. Right there was 2020 first round pick Jack Quinn, who got Hutton to bite on a shot attempt, only to fake it and pass it over to a wide-open Casey Mittelstadt, who made no mistake making it a 3-2 game.
The third period only saw Team Gold continue to ramp up the pace and take it to Team Blue.
With 12:23 remaining in regulation, Rieder netted his second goal of the night as he was left completely unchecked coming in off the right wing on a rush into the zone by linemate Cody Eakin. Eakin was able to blow by Eichel and have space going to the net, but he saw Rieder coming in unguarded, and the German forward put his shot over the far-side blocker shoulder of Hutton.
A little more than six minutes later, defenseman Jake McCabe extended the Team Gold lead to 5-2 after some sloppy defensive work in the Blue defensive zone. After a good forecheck by Staal on defenseman Casey Fitzgerald, the puck came to defenseman Mattias Samuelsson, who froze with the puck along the boards and allowed Sam Reinhart to easily strip him. Reinhart then fed McCabe wide-open at the top of the faceoff circle, who then fired his wrist shot past the blocker of Hutton.
Team Gold wrapped up the night with their final goal in the dying seconds of regulation, courtesy of Staal from Victor Olofsson on a 2-on-1 rush. Olofsson was able to get Hutton to buy in to him shooting, until the second-year winger made a nice no-look pass across to the first-year Sabres center, who had a wide-open net looking at him.
Both teams wrapped up the evening with some 3-on-3 action for five minutes, while also taking part in a four-round shootout after the 3-on-3 period.
Here are some more thoughts on Saturday's scrimmage:
The kids put in some good work
Both Cozens and Quinn got in their first simulated game action with the Sabres and appeared to have left off where they did just days ago at the IIHF World Junior Championship.
Cozens jumped out right away in the first period as he used his speed and puck tenacity to make a few nice plays, including one where he chased down a loose puck and fed linemate Brandon Biro for a breakaway chance.
Meanwhile, Cozens was able to display his physical presence throughout the night with his ability to use his strength and 6-foot-3 frame to out-muscle defenders to win puck battles.
Cozens said on Friday that his primary focus is on making the Sabres' 23-man roster for the upcoming season, and with a performance like he had on Saturday, it's just one step closer for him to achieve that goal.
As for Quinn, it looked like it took him a bit to get his feet under him in the first time wearing Sabres blue and gold. The 19-year-old then started to feel himself in the second period, and was able to make a really nice play to assist Mittelstadt on his go-ahead goal.
Quinn was able to finish the night well with a couple of good scoring chances, while also showing that he's more than just the goal scorer that he was touted for heading into the 2020 NHL Draft.
It is unlikely that Quinn will make the Sabres' roster right away, but to get this first taste of playing against NHL action should benefit the young winger going into his 2020-21 season.
Keep the Hall-Eichel-Thompson trio rolling
Monday's scrimmage saw Hall and Thompson paired up together with forward Arttu Ruotsalainen at center, holding down the spot for Eichel while he needed time off for an upper-body injury. The pair worked well together, with Thompson standing out from the crowd as he battles for a full-time roster spot.
When the Sabres threw Eichel into the mix, that line felt quite complete, as the trio completely took over the first period of play. Eichel and Hall were both making plays and skating fast and with authority, while Thompson used his size and strength to get good positioning for scoring chances.
Overall, Thompson has really shown through training camp that the work he put in during his time off is paying huge dividends. He's put on some weight and added strength, he looks faster, and he's trying to be more responsible in both ends of the ice. At this point, it would be nearly impossible to deny Thompson a roster spot, let alone a spot in the top-six forward group.
As for Hall, he showed on Saturday why he is worth the price of admission every time. He skates so well with and without the puck, he has blazing speed down the wing to take any defenseman off guard, and he always has his head up and on a swivel to see where the best play to be made is on the ice.
As for Eichel, he struggled, at times, in his first game action of training camp, but still displayed all the skills that make him one of the best talents in the entire NHL. What continues to impress is the way he can dictate the pace of the game with the puck on his stick. He can slow things way down to get the best look and set something up, or he can turn on the jets and go make a play happen on the fly.
It'll be interesting to see if Krueger elects to keep that line in tact as the season gets underway on Thursday.
Another great showing from Jokiharju, Mittelstadt
I made mention of how good Jokiharju and Mittelstadt were in the scrimmage on Monday, and nothing was different about their performances on Friday night.
Jokiharju continues to show how much his game has grown in just one full season in the NHL. He is calm, poised and smart with the puck, he is more physically matured and stronger, and his skating looks even more crisp and cleaner than ever.
As for Mittelstadt, his confidence is starting to grow more and more as the practices go on. He's playing well with the puck on his stick, he's engaging physically in puck battles, and he's working hard to be more responsible in both ends.
Yes, while the team is only 10 days through training camp, but both players could be poised for breakout seasons in the 2020-21 campaign.
Sabres' checking line looking stronger every day
Buffalo's checking line of Rieder-Eakin-Okposo is starting to gain a lot of steam as the upcoming season approaches. The trio are playing fast, smart, and are making plays at both ends of the ice.
While we know what Okposo can bring to the table, the newcomers of Rieder and Eakin are showing to be fitting in well with what Krueger wants with his team. Rieder has looked noticeable in the first week-and-a-half of training camp, while Eakin is continuing to look better-and-better with every session.
How that will translate into actual game action during the regular season is yet to be determined, but it's certainly a promising sign to start.
Borgen deserves every look he can get
Defenseman Will Borgen has continued to earn the attention of the Sabres' coaching staff since the start of training camp with his work ethic and daily compete for a roster spot.
The 24-year-old defenseman started camp with the secondary group that has a number of players likely bound for the Rochester Americans when their season starts. However, he got the call up to the main group within the first few days of camp and has been starting to get talked about more as a potential option for, potentially, a spot on the 23-man roster or the six-man taxi squad.
On Saturday night, Borgen displayed his underrated skating abilities a couple of times, especially when going from one end of the ice to another. In the second period, Borgen joined an offensive rush that saw him carry the puck around the net and back out front to set up a scoring chance. When the play broke down, he quickly got back into position to break up an odd-man rush with Hall trying to set up Thompson for a chance in the other end.
In his young professional career, Borgen has proven to be the ultimate workhorse on the blue line with his strong physical presence, his impressive skating, good puck moving capabilities, and the ability to contribute in the offensive side of the game too.
This may have been a long time coming for Borgen, a former fourth round pick in the 2015 NHL Draft, but the patience is starting to pay off.
Ullmark looking back to form
It looked like it took a full period for Ullmark to get comfortable in his first scrimmage of training camp on Saturday, but then really settled in and appeared back to form. The 27-year-old netminder was very solid in net throughout the night for Team Gold, making a number of solid saves, while also moving very well in the crease and seeing anything that was coming his way.
While Carter Hutton has played very well through the start of camp as well, the net is Ullmark's to take. He proved on Saturday that he should be ready to go despite missing the opening few days of camp after his immigration issues.
Skinner is strug-gl-ing
The first few days of camp looked like Skinner was over last year's struggles and was set to get back on track. However, the veteran winger has been struggling again in some of the practices, which bled over into the scrimmage on Saturday.
The 28-year-old appeared to be trying to do too much with the puck on Saturday, which resulted in a number of sloppy turnovers in both ends. He's struggling to find the back of the net again, which is starting to bring out the bad side of Skinner with his frustrations and anger.
The most telling aspect of Skinner's frustrations are the reactions and body language he expressed throughout the rest of the scrimmage. After a missed shot or a turnover, he often looked to the sky or said something to himself in anger and completely took himself out of the mindset of getting back into the play. A couple of times in the offensive zone, he missed a shot or pass, and then skated around in anger instead of sticking with it.
Late in the third period, Skinner made another mistake in the neutral zone and came to the bench for a line change. However, he returned to the bench and let the anger get the best of him, as he slammed to door shut a couple of times.
Yes, Skinner is playing on a line with Curtis Lazar and Riley Sheahan, but he has been expected to be more of a key offensive contributor on the roster, especially after signing his contract extension during the 2019 offseason.
Skinner will need to figure out a way to get over the struggles fast with the season quickly approaching.
Buffalo returns to the ice for practice on Sunday morning at 11 a.m. EST. It is possible that there will be some roster cuts starting as soon as Sunday.