The Buffalo Sabres had another strong offensive performance in their win against the Washington Capitals on Sunday (Feb. 26). With Alex Tuch missing because of an injury, Dylan Cozens had a hat trick and an assist. He wasn’t alone in the scoring. Vinnie Hinostroza scored the game-winning goal and added an assist, and Jack Quinn and Casey Mittelstadt also each had two assists.
After a disappointing loss to the Toronto Maple Leafs, the Sabres’ three-game winning streak shows the team has the potential to compete at a high level and make a push for the playoffs. However, with several other teams also vying for a playoff spot, every game will be crucial if the Sabres are to improve their position and end their playoff drought.
The team needs to continue playing with intensity and focus in the games ahead. Otherwise, there will be no postseason in Buffalo – again.
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Latest News & Highlights
In this edition of Sabres News & Rumors, I’ll take a look at the news emerging from the game. I’ll also look at some of the other news occurring in the Sabres organization as they prepare to take on the Columbus Blue Jackets tonight in their second of two home games.
Item One: Dylan Cozens Scored His First NHL Hat Trick
Cozens had a great game Sunday against the Capitals. He scored his first career hat trick and added an assist to help lead his team to a 7-4 win. He spaced his goals out nicely, scoring a goal in each period. His assist then set up Hinostroza for the game-winning goal.
The 22-year-old’s performance ended a three-game point drought. On the season, Cozens now has scored 23 goals and 29 assists (for 52 points) in 57 games. It’s been a breakout season for the young center from Whitehorse, Yukon Territory.
Cozens is beginning to show the potential the Sabres believed he had when they drafted him in the first round of the 2019 NHL Entry Draft. He’s starting to put together his size, skill, and versatility. He’s becoming yet another promising young Sabres player.
Item Two: Hinostroza Makes the Most of His Chance
Credit Hinostroza for taking advantage of his opportunity. With Tuch out of the lineup with an undisclosed injury, the 28-year-old was called up from the American Hockey League (AHL)’s Rochester Americans and immediately made his presence felt.
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He scored the game-winning goal and added an assist in the Sabres’ win over the Capitals. It was his first goal of the season in his 20th game played. Although he hasn’t produced at the NHL level, he’s been playing well in Rochester – putting up five goals and four assists in 11 games.
Now the question is whether this is a one-off or if Hinostroza has the potential to take advantage of further chances. He’s been placed in a top-six role in the Sabres’ offense, and he has a chance to shine. How much of a contributor can he be as the team makes a push for a playoff spot?
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Item Three: Riley Stillman Traded to the Sabres for Josh Bloom
Yesterday, the Sabres picked up left-shooting defenseman Riley Stillman from the Vancouver Canucks. They sent prospect Josh Bloom the other way.
Stillman is a 24-year-old Peterborough, Ontario, native. He’s 6-foot-1 and weighs 196 pounds. He was drafted by the Florida Panthers in the fourth round (114th overall) of the 2016 NHL Entry Draft.
Stillman isn’t going to offer the team a lot of offense. In his 140 NHL games, he’s only scored three goals and added 20 assists (for 23 points). However, he should add depth to the defense. He played last season with the Chicago Blackhawks until he was traded to the Cancucks this past October. He has another year on his $1.35 million contract.
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In giving up Bloom, the team is losing some of its future as a way to help secure the present. He is a 19-year-old, 6-foot-2, 185-pound left-winger who was drafted by the Sabres in the third round (95th overall) of the 2021 NHL Entry Draft.
This season, Bloom has scored 26 goals and added 32 assists (for 58 points) in 59 Ontario Hockey League (OHL) games with the North Bay Battalion. The Canucks probably are planning to move him to the AHL next season.
Item Four: Goalie Michael Houser Signs Third Contract with Sabres
Could there be something in the trade winds for the Sabres? Yesterday, they once again signed 30-year-old goalie Michael Houser to a league-minimum $750,000 contract. He was quickly passed through waivers. Curiously, this is the third straight midseason NHL-level deal he has signed with the Sabres.
This season, he’s played 14 games with the AHL’s Americans. His record is 6-5-1 with a .903 save percentage and a 2.95 goals-against-average. The fact that the team quickly signed Houser might mean that one of the Sabres’ other NHL-level goalies will be traded before Friday’s deadline. That would allow Houser to be recalled to Buffalo in the future.
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Prior to Houser’s signing, Malcolm Subban was the only other Sabres goaltender on an NHL contract not currently playing in the NHL.
What’s Next for the Sabres?
The Sabres have fought their way into the playoff picture. Other than a wobble or two, they’ve been putting up impressive performances over their recent games.
What’s most impressive is that they’ve shown the ability to overcome injuries and have players step up when called upon. That’s a testimony to the depth of talent on this team.
Some big questions remain. Over the last part of the regular season, how hungry are the players to succeed? Can they push for the playoff spot? If they can, it’s a positive sign for the future of this organization.
That said, the road is not easy – particularly in the Eastern Conference. The young Sabres must continue to play with intensity and focus if they are to even make the postseason. How fun for long-suffering Sabres fans. I look forward to seeing how the team progresses in the near future.