Blue and Gold Scrimmage Burns White Hot

SabresBlueandGold

Reported on twitter as having over 10,000 people in the stands, an actual attendance amount of 8,750 people showed up for a scrimmage in JULY! Photo via twitter.com.

It was a pickup game of epic proportion, but the Buffalo Sabres’ Blue & White (née Blue & Gold) Scrimmage told a lot of tales. Some of them were great, others, not so much, but kudos to the organization for offering fans this glimpse into the future for free. 8,500 Buffalonians took advantage of the open-to-the-public event, and–months since the Sabres’ season ended–it was nice to see some hockey again.

Blue and Gold Markov

Hopefully Markov will get better for the future! Photo via twitter.com

The White team handled the Blue team 5-1, and the lopsided score tells the tale precisely. The Blue team was largely unimpressive, while the White team seemed to be more prepared, more organized, and more hungry. While Blue started the game dominating physically and controlling play, their grip on the throttle loosened, and they largely looked sloppy for the remainder of the game. The Blue power play seemed lost and spent most of the time retreating into their defensive zone. They were weak down low, and the White team was able to crash the net, resulting in several high-percentage chances that the White team was able to convert. When the defense did break down, the goaltending failed, with both Cal Peterson and Andrey Makarov finding themselves out of position or just a touch too slow. They had a great shift in the 3rd, keeping possession for nearly a minute and cycling well, but that flash of brilliance didn’t translate into points, which has been the bane of the Sabres existence for years. Their one goal came on a bad change, which resulted in a numbers advantage heading into the White zone.

White’s game was nearly the opposite. They played an organized game, owning shooting and passing lanes and dominating the penalty kill. The goaltending was incredible, and I truly think that if Linus Ullmark continues to play this way in training camp, he will contend for the Amerk’s starting job, if not a backup spot for the Sabres. He seemed poised and sharp: his positioning was almost perfect; he gave up few rebounds; and he seemed to see everything, even if Blue managed to get a screen in front. He had the assistance of some strong defense, but in no way did that detract from his performance. Johansson also played well with three strong minutes of 6-on-5 chaos in front of him.

Rasmus

Is Rasmus Ristolainen a future Superstar at D? Photo via http://www.buffalonews.com.

The names we’re familiar with did exactly what we thought they should. Zemgus Girgensons was silently good. There is no player in the NHL with more heart than Rasmus Ristolainen, who blocked several shots on the empty net in the waning moments of the scrimmage. I can’t wait to see what this kid becomes. Mikhail Grigorenko showed flashes, but lacked consistency. Mark Pysyk played a strong, smart game. His breakout passes always connected and no one got by him when entering the zone. Nikita Zadorov was a presence, using his size to his advantage offensively as well as defensively, and his thunderous shot from the point resulted in the first goal of the game.

The standout player from the Blue team was–without question–defenseman Anthony Florentino. He laid a crushing hit in the opening moments of the game, and he never let up. He controlled Sam Reinhart when the two came together, and he took on the gargantuan Justin Kea, who seemed to dwarf the D-man in their brief fight. He was beat flat-out for the puck by Nicolas Baptiste on the 4th goal, but I thought he had a great game overall.

The White team seemed to all be on the same page and played a great game of hockey in my opinion, but standouts for the White team are the aforementioned Ullmark and Kea as well as Jerome Gauthier-Leduc, who jumped into the offense as often as possible. Reinhart didn’t make the score sheet but played a grittier game than perhaps some may have expected. Baptiste’s fight for the puck and subsequent goal were highlights for certain.

Will Mikhail Grigorenko ever live up to the hype? This year is make or break for him! Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images

Will Mikhail Grigorenko ever live up to the hype? This year is make or break for him! Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images

I was honestly disappointed in Grigorenko. I really thought he’d take advantage of this time to showcase his abilities against some less stiff competition, but he seemed lackadaisical and uninterested for the most part. On the White side, I expected to see a bit more from Joel Armia, especially when paired up with Sam Reinhart, who looked a bit nervous and broke up his own team’s plays a couple of times. Brendan Lemieux was unimpressive at best; he seemed to really want to make a fool of Ristolainen, who showed Lemieux his seat several times. JT Compher was a far more effective ‘pest,’ showing a little bit of the behind-the-play dirtiness as well as some get up and go.

Overall, the game served its purpose. It gave Buffalo sports fans something concrete to talk about until Bills training camp starts up; it gave those not brave enough for Canalfest something to do, and it gave us a chance to do what we Buffalonians do best: hope that the future is as bright as it seems it might be.

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