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Ristolainen makes most of career-high ice time in Sabres’ shootout loss

DETROIT - Rasmus Ristolainen had four quality celebrations. He lamented the fact he didn’t have five.

What should have been a Tuesday night to remember instead became a disappointing loss for the Buffalo defenseman. He was on the ice for every goal by the Sabres and tied a career high with three assists, but he watched from the bench as Detroit scored in the shootout to pick up a wildly entertaining 5-4 victory.

“I liked the four goals that we scored, but we can’t let four goals in our net,” Ristolainen said in Joe Louis Arena. “That tells us something. We’ve got to be more sharp in the D-zone.”

Clearly, the Sabres were far from perfect. They got outshot, 46-32. They fell into 2-0 and 3-1 holes, then blew a 4-3 lead late in the game.

But there were plenty of bright spots, too. Evander Kane scored twice, attempted 12 shots and was one of the game’s more physical players. The Sabres clawed back to erase their early deficits and take a third-period lead. Their power play scored twice.

Then there was Ristolainen. He skated a game-high 27:55. He attempted seven shots, getting four on net. Late in the third period, he hustled back to strip Gustav Nyquist on a partial breakaway to keep the Sabres temporarily in front.

“As a young player for us, we’re asking a lot of him and what he does for us,” coach Dan Bylsma said. “He’s playing against the other team’s best players night in and night out. He’s in every situation, and he’s been pretty dynamic for us.”

Ristolainen boosted his season totals to four goals, 13 assists and 17 points, widening his second-place lead. He’s the runaway leader in ice time at 24:14 per game.

“It’s kind of nice,” he said of the offensive output that was originally credited as a four-point night before a postgame scoring change, “but when we need wins and points it’s a big disappointment for me and the whole team.”

Buffalo slipped to 2-0-1 in the last three games and 10-12-3 overall. But Zach Bogosian sees bright things ahead if the 21-year-old Ristolainen continues to grow into a cornerstone on the Sabres’ blue line.

“He’s made some big strides even since I’ve been here, and I’ve only been here since last February,” Bogosian said. “It’s good to see him playing with a lot of confidence.

“He’s doing great. As a young defenseman, it’s a tough position to learn. You’re learning new things every day, and it’s good to see him at such a young age making the strides that he’s making. If he keeps that up, we’re going to do some pretty big things here.”

Ristolainen’s second assist came when his point shot was deflected home by Zemgus Girgensons. The defenseman is second on the team with 65 shots, trailing only the 82 put on net by Jack Eichel.

“He fires a lot of pucks at the net,” Kane said. “When you watch him play whether it’s five-on-five or on the power play, he shoots the puck. That can open up a lot. He gets points off that.

“When he’s shooting the puck that usually leaves other guys open to make plays. He’s been real solid so far this season.”

Defense partner Josh Gorges sees it up close.

“He was outstanding, and he just continues to grow and get better,” Gorges said. “He’s not doing anything miraculous. He’s finding the open guy. He’s winning his battles. He’s composed when he has the puck, and it’s great to see.”

Still, Ristolainen left the arena angry. He was part of the power-play unit that failed to connect during overtime.

Though he wasn’t on the ice for Detroit’s two first-period goals, he wasn’t happy the team started slowly.

The next chance for a happier performance comes Friday when the Sabres host Arizona.

“We weren’t ready to play,” Ristolainen said. “They got a couple little easy ones. We weren’t ready to battle, but after we got the first goal we played better, we battled harder.

“We had some chances in overtime. Four-on-three, two minutes, you’ve got to score. That was the turning point why we couldn’t get two points.”


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