Thursday night the Sabres were dominated by a much better Anaheim Ducks team. A late rally when the game was out of reach narrowly kept them from being doubled up in shots. They were unable to contain Corey Perry who finished with two goals and an assist in this one-sided affair. Strength vs. strength, the Sabres top line just wasn’t able to measure up. However, I was very impressed with what I saw from the Bailey-Reinhart-Gionta line. They enjoyed most of the possession when on the ice, and created some really good chances.
After watching Bailey during the 10 minuets of ice time he received, I am certain that he belongs at the NHL level. I am going to rate his performance a B+. He wasn’t able find the net, but he did register his first NHL assist. He was able to leave his mark on the game even with limited ice time.
Offensively, Bailey was the same lightning rod that he has been in Rochester. It very quickly became clear that his speed will still be a factor at the NHL level. On two separate occasions Bailey skated the puck all the way through the neutral zone stick-handling through and around Ducks with ease. After busting out of the zone he almost split the defense to earn a break away; but the puck was just barely poked away. He also used his blazing speed to create chances on the rush for his line mates. After drawing the defense to him, he slid passes to both Reinhart and Gionta to set up quality shots in the slot. However, the best chance he created came from behind the net. He slipped past the defense and made a great centering pass to Gionta out in front. Unfortunately the puck got caught in Brian’s skates and he wasn’t able to finish.
Defensively Bailey played a very strong game as well. He did a great job of pressing in the fore-checking game to try and win the puck. And that effort was rewarded as he finished tied for the team lead in takeaways. Bailey spent very little time in the defensive zone, but did get caught puck watching a few times. Fortunately, he was so good on the puck that it covered up his weakness. If 56 can do a better job of man-marking going forward it might help him to earn a spot on the Buffalo penalty-killing unit. He definitely has the physical tools to become a part of that group. I think that will be a key factor determining where he plays the majority of his hockey next year.
Personally, I feel the Sabres should take advantage of every opportunity to get Bailey on the ice. A game like this shows that he is good enough to be in the NHL. I would like to see him get more ice time going forward. It is definitely beneficial for him to be paired with players like Reinhart and Gionta; but If the goal is to develop him into a top 6 player that’s where he should be. If that opportunity doesn’t exist in Buffalo, then he is better served playing the rest of the season in Rochester.