Sabres' McCabe Relishes Big Opportunity

Smelling salts, man.

Smelling salts, man.

Early on in training camp, Zach Bogosian went down with what has since been labeled as a “lower body injury”.  That, along with a few other factors, allowed the former second-round selection of 2012 to step in and have a legitimate chance to prove himself as an everyday NHL defensemen. Since then, McCabe has quietly impressed and established himself as a legitimate defensemen on the Sabres roster going forward.

Now November, I believe the emergence of McCabe will truly begin. He’s clearly improved as the season has gone on. Today’s game marked his third straight game with over 20 minutes of ice-time (a career-high 23:47), a confirmation of the growing trust Bylsma has in the 22-year old. I spoke with McCabe after today's game and he told me that this is the most confident he's felt in his young career. 

"As you progress and play in this league obviously the more confident you are going to become," said McCabe. "With confidence comes consistency because those things go hand-in-hand."

It’s challenging to appreciate the value of efficient defensemen who play a steady, but not flashy game. With a re-tooled team, it’s incredibly easy to become stuck on the number of entertaining forwards including Eichel and O’Reilly, among others.  As do many others, I pay my attention to defensemen when they are beat, and when do something great in the O-zone. Neither of these things happen with McCabe often, so I haven’t necessarily devoted close attention to him this season.

After the first period of the game, Ryan Wolfe of bltdsports.com brought up McCabe and his strong play throughout his team-leading 8:06 time on the ice. It made me think: Do we have an emerging top-4 defensemen here? After I reflected on his great first period hit on Alexander Burrows (Carubba Collision Winner) , I decided it was my time to direct my full attention to him for periods two and three.

In the second period he logged nearly another eight minutes of ice-time. I watched his vision on full display early in the period as he made a heady cross-ice pass to O’Reilly. A few passes he made really impressed me. It’s easy to validate his increase in ice-time as the game truly appears to be slowing down for the former Wisconsin Badger. I asked him if he believes his vision has improved this season.

"It's just one of those things where you get more comfortable with guys on the ice and with our systems," McCabe confirmed. "We're trying to go north and we are trying to play fast. Our forwards have been in the right spot a lot of the times, so if I see a pass has to be made I'm going to make it. It's all about confidence and guys playing within our system."

Overall, the Sabres did not play their best game. Vancouver outplayed Buffalo and this was demonstrated by how poorly they were outshot (37-22). Fortunately, Buffalo beat the Canucks in the last minute on a shot from Rasmus Ristolainen. The Sabres now stand at 6-8-0 while the Canucks fall to 6-4-4. 

-Other important notes about the game.

-Ryan Miller's return to Buffalo. This will be the largest story of the day and that's exactly why I did not write about it. The video tribute for him was nothing short of phenomenal. Tear-jerking. Chilling. 

-Jack Eichel recorded two assists. His first two NHL assists.

-Ullmark was strong. He was tested early as he was against Tampa bay on Thursday, but it was different this time. Although the Sabres were outshot 15-4 in the first, Ullmark was steady as he did not allow a goal.

-It was Military Appreciation Night at First Niagara Center. The Sabres always do a phenomenal job honoring our heroes. Well Done, Sabres.