The Buffalo Sabres lost to the Montreal Canadiens 6-1 today, but the game was much closer than the scoreboard indicated.
Entering the game, the Sabres were the cellar-dwellers of the Northeast, and had a chance to leapfrog Montreal for 3rd place. After today’s embarrassing performance, the basement is where they remain.
For Buffalo, the game was the first of 6 in 9 days, which makes up 1/8th of this seasons games, so it was important for the team to get off on the right foot. Following the Sabres demolition of the Boston Bruins on Thursday, I expected the team to come out on a high against the Canadiens, and firing on all cylinders. I was sorely mistaken.
The Sabres came out sluggish and flat-footed in the first period, in what was a boring, emotionless period. Buffalo had as many shots on goal as the Canadiens had goals – they were outshot 15-1, and left the period down 1-0, as Montreal scored with 8 seconds to go in the period. There was little in the hitting department; the only thing that kept me from taking a nap was wondering how the team would respond in the second frame.
A different team skated out in the 2nd period, as Cody Hodgson and friends created early opportunities and displayed some energy. Unfortunately, the Canadiens matched the intensity, and then some. Montreal was always one step better, and quickly built a 4-0 lead. At any point, someone on the Sabres could have laid out a big hit to try and alter the momentum. With players like Mike Weber, Steve Ott, Marcus Foligno, Cody McCormick, and John Scott on the ice, none stepped up to the plate with a bone-rattling hit. Disappointing.
It wasn’t until the Canadiens made it 5-0 in the 3rd period when Ott finally took initiative, dropping the mittens with Brandon Prust.
All game long, the Sabres lost battles for the puck along the walls, races to loose pucks, and were just outworked overall. They were running around like Sunday errands. The persistently putrid play of Jordan Leopold continued, as he helped screen Ryan Miller on one goal, performed his Statue Of Liberty play on another, and got caught in the offensive zone leading to an odd-man rush for another.
The Sabres were exposed today as a team that may be built to play rugged games against teams like the Bruins, but just cannot hang with a patient, puck-moving, finesse team like the Canadiens. In a game like this, a line such as John Scott-Cody McCormick-Matt Ellis, who have a combined 35 goals in 728 NHL games, was useless. A line that could create scoring chances was needed.
We are quickly learning that although the Thomas Vanek-Cody Hodgson-Jason Pominville line is the hottest in the Eastern Conference, the Buffalo Sabres are going to struggle to win many games without scoring contributions from the rest of the team. Buffalo was brutally beaten badly today; it is time to see how they respond against the struggling Florida Panthers at home tomorrow.
Lastly, the Sabres need to solve their identity crisis. Are they a tough team that wants to try and win with brute strength and physical domination? Are they a skill team that wants to just win battles and play chippy? Or, do they feel at some point that they can become a mix of both talent and toughness? These next 9 days should ultimately show us exactly who they are.