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Okposo ignites Sabres comeback

By: Chamberlain Bauder

Photo credit: Chamberlain Bauder, 89.1 The Point

BUFFALO, N.Y. --- The Buffalo Sabres hosted the Pittsburgh Penguins in front of a sellout crowd on Black Friday. Despite a tough first 40 minutes of play the Sabres pulled off one of their best comebacks of the season. Driven by the leadership of captain Kyle Okposo and the offensive ability of Jeff Skinner and Alex Tuch. Ukko-Pekka Luukonnen had another great night at home, he posted a .939 save percentage on 33 shots.


“After the game I turned it right back over to Okie (Okposo),” Sabres head coach Don Granato said about Okposo leading the locker room through the end of the game. “I thought he did a great job between the second and third and I gave it right back to him post game because it was a great job. It was a leadership move but it was a collective effort.”

Kyle Okposo, Photo credit: Buffalo Sabres

The Buffalo Sabres got off to a slow start. Neither team had an edge but the Sabres scoring opportunities were not lethal. They had an equal amount of shots to the Penguins but they were not equal in caliber. Buffalo was first to go on the power play and had the lone man advantage of the period. Despite the extra skater, the Sabres couldn’t find the back of the net.


Okposo took a chance on the power play, he drove the puck towards the near post corner after coming up from behind the goal. That shot was Okposo’s third of the period, he and Krebs were connecting often on the Sabres’ third line early.


“I felt good,” Okposo said. “I had some chances early, I hit a post, I thought that one went in. First shift of the game would’ve been nice but you just stick to your game and know that it’s gonna turn.”

Okposo passing to Peyton Krebs Photo credit: Chamberlain Bauder, 89.1 The Point

With just over three minutes to go in the period Sidney Crosby found the puck on his stick in the high slot and sniped it past Luukkonen. The Sabres finished the period without much fight showing through.


The Sabres night only got harder in the second, but they also stepped their physicality up. In the first few minutes Pittsburgh had mounted so much pressure it looked like Buffalo was on the penalty kill. Moments later it was the Sabres with a true man advantage as they earned their second power play of the night. Despite the extra man Buffalo came up scoreless again.


It wasn’t for a lack of possession. In the first minute of their power play the Sabres were able to put up shots but none to write home about. It was a different story in the second minute as Buffalo looked to line up one-timer after one-timer and they never actually took the shot. Play returned to even and Pittsburgh went right back into their pressure. It finally came to a head in front of the Buffalo goal as Kris Letang and Krebs got into it. The Buffalo center was clearly under the skin of Pittsburgh all night. They never dropped the gloves though so both teams went to four skaters.

Peyton Krebs with the puck behind the Pittsburgh net. Photo credit: Buffalo Sabres

“Krebsy man I don’t know he might be the most hated guy in Pittsburgh right now,” Tuch said about Krebs after fighting Letang and Crosby earlier this season. “It doesn’t always show up on the score sheet when a guy makes a difference, when a guy swings the momentum our way. When they sacrifice and get under the skin, when he’s doing the intangibles that go unseen sometimes. We see him in the locker room we see it on the bench. It gave us momentum and he cares so much and he works so hard and he helped us a lot tonight.”


The back half of the period found just as much, if not more, pressure from the Penguins. They eventually got their first power play off a Tuch penalty for an illegal check to the head. They didn’t score on the power play but instead it was a defensive mistake by Rasmus Dahlia just after returning to even play. He whiffed a pass into the middle of the defensive zone and created an easy goal for Lars Eller in front of net. Buffalo again went through the last few minutes of the period with little to no juice and headed into the second intermission searching for a spark.


“Just go,” Okposo said to his team before the third period. “Quit worrying about making so many mistakes and worrying about giving up chances.”


The Sabres entered the third looking initially similar in pace and energy to that of the earlier periods. Okposo’s message during the second intermission was to stop thinking and just attack. That message found its way through when Buffalo hit their third power play of the night. Third time was the charm.

Skinner after his power play goal. Photo credit: Buffalo Sabres

“When you get a power play you want to score especially when you’re down 2-0,” Okposo said about the power play driving the Sabres’ energy in the third. “Those guys did a great job hunting pucks, they had a chance to clear it and we did a good job pressuring. Just pressure, pressure, pressure.”


“Breakin’ Free” blared over the speakers for Jeff Skinner’s ninth goal of the season, he found the net off a pass from Alex Tuch. 2-1 came just over five minutes into the third. The next goal wouldn’t come for another five minutes but it spoke to the nature of the third period puck luck for Buffalo. Okposo looked to send a dime to Krebs in the low slot, instead he scored a goal deflecting the puck off Erik Karlsson’s stick and into the back of the net. It was the first point for the Sabres captain in four games.

Okposo after his goal. Photo credit: Buffalo Sabres

“He’s the type of guy that it doesn’t matter what he says everyone is listen,” Tuch said about Okposo’s leadership. “He leads by example, has a big goal for us. It doesn’t matter if he scored that goal or not, he was doing all the little things and he was working his ass off out there. Obviously it’s tough when you go through a goalless drought like he has this season but it just shows how resilient he is and our group is and he’s the ultimate leader ultimate teammate and it was really good to see him get one.”


Once tied, Buffalo looked in complete control. Even as they went to the penalty kill minutes later they cleared the puck with ease. Time ticked down and Buffalo entered the final three minutes of play, an area where they’d been outscored 2-0 in the prior periods. That had no effect on the forecheck of Buffalo as the kept driving play toward the Penguins net. Finally, Skinner got control of the puck behind the net, he was able to curl around and find Tuch open across the slot. He took a quick wrister and scored stick side on Alex Nedeljkovic. Buffalo took the late lead and despite a four-on-four never looked back. Much of that was thanks to the steady presence of Luukonnen’s 31 saves on the night.

Ukko-Pekka Luukonnen Photo credit: Buffalo Sabres

“Ukko (Pekka Luukonnen) was very very good and what I liked most about him being very good is his confidence.” Granato said about the net minders play.


In the victory Buffalo still caught a loss as Zemgus Girgensons went down with a lower body injury in the third period. He will be replaced by shining Amerks forward Isak Rosen. He is currently tied for fourth in the AHL for points, eight goals and 11 assists in 16 games. The Sabres hit the airstrip right after the game. They will face New Jersey on Saturday and the New York Rangers on Sunday.

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