When Buffalo Sabres coach Dan Bylsma reflects on putting Jake McCabe alongside Rasmus Ristolainen on the blue line he sees a pair that reflected the team's play in Ottawa on Tuesday.
Great in the first period. Struggling in the second. Good enough to get the win.
McCabe and Ristolainen were again paired up at the morning skate on Thursday as the Sabres looked to find the right combination among its six healthy defenders.
"They were a little bit indicative of our team game," Bylsma said of the duo's performance in the 5-4 win in Ottawa on Tuesday. "I thought we had a really good first period and then in the second we got away from our game a little bit. Our puck management, execution, turnovers in the neutral zone, gave them opportunities and I feel that way about Jake and Rasmus. They were part of that. That was a big load for Jake up against some good players in tough situations. I think it’s when he’s got to rise to the occasion."
McCabe didn't feel he rose to that occasion on Tuesday. He was on the ice for all four of Ottawa's goals and saw plenty of places where he could have, and should have, been better defensively.
"That first goal last game I lost track of my guy on the backside, rebound pops right to him and it’s in the back of our net," McCabe said. "Penalty kill ... maybe if I block that shot, it doesn’t get to the net and there’s no goal. Earlier in the penalty kill if I would have put the puck in the back of the net, then the game goes to 4-1 and they don’t score that power play goal to make it 3-2. Just clean some things up and play with confidence and play my game."
McCabe has played much of the season paired with Cody Franson. Franson spent the last game mostly paired with Josh Gorges with Rochester recalls Taylor Fedun and Justin Falk teamed up for the third pair while Zach Bogosian (MCL sprain) and Dmitry Kulikov (lower back) remain out with injuries.
"I’ve played with a lot of guys in my time here," said McCabe, now in his second full NHL season with the Sabres. "With each switch, guys have different tendencies." But of his pairing with Ristolainen, McCabe said "we read pretty well off each other and we did a pretty good job talking last game which makes it easier.
"I think we both have good offensive instincts and like to carry the puck, like to skate with it. It’s just one of those things where we both can’t be jumping at the same time or get caught that way. I think we did a good job of handling that last time and just continue to work on it."