On Saturday, the Buffalo Sabres came back to defeat the Winnipeg Jets 4-3 at KeyBank Center in Western New York. It was a very good character win for a rebuilding team that’s struggled. Despite possessing talent, Buffalo ranks seventh out of eight teams in the Atlantic Division with 39 points in 39 games. Only Detroit is worse tied in points but with one more game played.
In a battle of two of the game’s teenage sensations, the biggest story was Buffalo defenseman Jake McCabe delivering a crushing shoulder to chest hit on Jets rookie superstar Patrick Laine at center ice. The American caught the Finnish talent flush with 14:09 remaining in the third period.
Unfortunately, Laine was helped off the ice and didn’t return. Not surprisingly, he suffered a concussion. It’s a real shame because the 2016 second overall pick is a breathtaking player who’s tied with first overall pick Auston Matthews for goals (21) among rookies. He leads all freshmen in scoring with 37 points (21-16-37) to Matthews’ 35 (21-14-35). Mitch Marner is third with 32 (10-22-32).
The 2016-17 rookie class features other talented players including Blue Jackets’ defenseman Zach Werenski, whose 25 points (6-19-25) lead their back end in what’s been a great year for the first place team. A third Maple Leaf William Nylander ranks fourth in rookie scoring with 26 points (8-18-26). Altogether, Toronto boasts five first-year forwards including Zach Hyman (5-13-18) and Connor Brown (9-9-18). They’re challenging for a playoff spot in the Atlantic.
Keep a close eye on Calgary’s Matthew Tkachuk. The son of former NHL All-Star Keith has been hot of late with a nine-game point streak hiking his total to 25 (7-18-25). Like his Dad, he plays with a mean streak. His 74 penalty minutes are among the league leaders.
There are other notables such as the Flyers’ Ivan Provorov and Travis Konecny, Detroit’s Anthony Mantha, Carolina’s Sebastian Aho, the Rangers’ Jimmy Vesey, Brady Skjei and rehabbing Russian Pavel Buchnevich. If Pens’ Stanley Cup hero Matt Murray returned, he would be an interesting case. He was 13-3-1 with a 2.18 goals-against-average, .928 save percentage with two shutouts in 19 appearances (17 starts). Most first-year goalies get the cold shoulder from professional writers. Especially given how strong this year’s class is.
As for McCabe, he had some interesting commentary on the hit. When asked about where the hit ranked he candidly said:
“It takes the cake,” as his biggest this season. Probably not the wisest choice of words. NHL Network analyst Kevin Weekes was highly critical of McCabe. He felt it was disrespectful to characterize such a big hit which injured another player that way. He has a point. However, McCabe was asked a question and answered it honestly.
Winnipeg coach Paul Maurice had no problem with the hit: