When Buffalo general manager Jason Botterill took over the Sabres in the summer of 2017, one of his first moves was reacquiring Jason Pominville as part of a four player trade that included two draft picks with Minnesota on June 30, 2017. Defenseman Marco Scandella also came over from the Wild in exchange for forwards Tyler Ennis (now with Toronto) and Marcus Foligno. The goal of the deal was to help upgrade a weak blueline.
Even though nobody will confuse the 28-year old defensive defenseman with Rasmus Ristolainen or Rasmus Dahlin, Scandella is still a key cog on a revamped blueline that also includes Jake McCabe, Zach Bogosian and Casey Nelson. The latter has been a surprise for coach Phil Housley due to his skating. Obviously, winning the NHL Lottery to select Dahlin first overall this past summer really helped. The teenager will be a fixture for years to come.
What nobody counted on was the popular former Buffalo playoff hero filling a huge void in his second season back where he belongs. Pominville has always been a tenacious worker, who brings a good work ethic to his shifts. Following a decent ’17-18 in which he tallied 34 points (16-18-34) while playing all 82 games, the well respected 35-year old who recently played his 1,000th career NHL game has taken his game to a level once seen when he was a huge part of a very good Buffalo team. One that challenged for the Eastern Conference. There was that memorable shorthanded goal he scored while down two men, eliminating Ottawa in the Conference Semifinals. I remember echoing to close personal friend Brian that I had a feeling about a shorthanded goal. I guess I knew. That prompted one of legendary Sabres announcer Rick Jeanneret’s greatest calls.
As he went around Daniel Aldredsson as if he were a Ton an with Wade Redden watching, it allowed Jeanneret to beam, “Oh now do you believe? NOW DO YOU BELIEVE! These guys are good! Scary good!”
If ever there was a time the Buffalo Sabres should’ve won the Stanley Cup, that ’05-06 season was it. They were deep, talented and had it all including unreal goaltending from Ryan Miller. Unfortunately, injuries to a depleted blueline proved costly in a crushing seven game Conference Final loss to Carolina. You can’t convince me or any Sabres fan, who lived and died with that team, that the Hurricanes were better. To win 16 games in the toughest tournament, you also have to get lucky. I know that well as a Rangers fan, who dies a little more every day since ’94. Especially given what happened to the ’13-14 team in the Stanley Cup Final versus the hated Kings.
The amazing thing is Pominville is one of three Sabres left from that roster who are still playing. The same one which dominated the East the following season, only to be stunned by the Senators in the same round. A revenge series. Sometimes, those happen. It happened to the end of the old Rangers roster by the very same Ottawa in that fateful second round in 2017. That was the end for them. Now, it’s rebuild mode under a new coach. Something oddly familiar to Buffalo fans. They’ve been waiting patiently for a good team that could challenge for the playoffs. It’s been a while. The glory days of Chris Drury, Daniel Briere, Thomas Vanek, Maxim Afinogenov and Brian Campbell are long gone. Counting ’06-07, there are five players left with Drew Stafford and Andrej Sekera also still around.
All this time later and here’s Pominville, who got a well deserved beautiful ceremony honoring his career spent mostly in Buffalo, turning back the clock. Second-year coach Phil Housley has put together a tremendous top line. The kind the Sabres haven’t had in a decade. Centered by new captain Jack Eichel and anchored by Jeff Skinner and Pominville, they have been dominant. Never was that more clear than in Pominville’s 1,001st game.
On a day he won’t forget, the senior citizen went out and celebrated in style by scoring twice and recording an assist for a three-point effort. For the season, the ageless Pommer is up to eight goals and six helpers for 14 points in 14 games. The line is doing damage. Since being put together, they’ve produced big goals in comeback victories as the Sabres continue to prove they can’t be taken lightly. The cohesive trio combined for four of Buffalo’s nine goals in a 9-2 blowout win over the Senators at home. They totaled nine points with Skinner getting two goals and one assist while Eichel had three helpers.
A couple of days after losing in Ottawa, the Sabres dominated their Canadian rival. It was all working for an improved hockey club that upped its record to 7-5-2 in a competitive Atlantic Division. Their 16 points are tied with the Bruins and Canadiens, who both lost on Saturday. Each have played one less game. So for now, Buffalo is in fifth place. However, if they played in a perplexing Metro led by the surprising Islanders, they would be second. They’re right where they want to be at this point. In the mix for a potential wildcard that could include more competitors than last year.
How good was the win? Winning netminder Linus Ullmark had virtually nothing to do for most of the day. He did allow two goals on 29 shots. But it was all Buffalo. They controlled play throughout that was highlighted by a dominant second period. After chasing Ottawa starter Craig Anderson with three goals in the first that included Pominville scoring on a rebound of an Eichel shot off the post, they greeted poor reliever Mike McKenna rudely. They outscored the Sens 5-1 and outshot them 21-9. Thirteen seconds after Skinner got his second on a wonderfully constructed play for a power play goal, Zemgus Girgensons scored his first of the season.
What followed was three more goals in short order. Max McCormick, Pominville and Conor Sheary made it 7-0. The five Buffalo goals came within a 2:42 span, prompting an animated Ottawa coach Guy Boucher to call a timeout and yell at his guys.
By the time the game was over, Patrik Berglund and Casey Mittlestadt had added tallies for a 9-2 win. Each had good games with a goal and a helper apiece. Maybe that’ll get Mittlestadt going. The gifted 19-year old rookie entered with only three points. Much is expected from the playmaking pivot and Sam Reinhardt, who remains stuck on one goal despite tallying two assists to hike his total to seven. If those two can find more consistency, that would help secondary scoring.
On a big day where 15 Sabres’ skaters of 18 got on the score sheet, the only downside was Dahlin having to exit the contest due to a lower body injury sustained from blocking a couple of shots. It isn’t known if he’ll dress for Sunday night’s visit at the Rangers on Broadway. That would be a disappointment if he couldn’t play.
For now, Buffalo has a good team that knows it can score more. They also have two goalies that are getting the job done. How unfortunate for the Rangers that they’ll see their kryptonite, Carter “E.F.” Hutton. He owns them. He made over 40 saves in an early Buffalo win last month.
Before we wrap this up, it’s worth noting that Pominville ranks third among the 2001 Draft Class in points, trailing only top pick Jason Spezza and second overall pick Ilya Kovalchuk. He’s now up to 710 (285-425-710) after putting a stamp on game 1,001 that saw the team present him with gifts along with taped messages from former and current teammates. That included Botterill, who was his Rochester teammate before retiring. Now in Year Two, he looks to have put together a team Buffalo can be proud of. One that features the second round gem taken with the number 55 pick.
Not bad at all.