I don’t know about you, but I woke up feeling pretty good this morning. Despite the fact that I was up later than I ought to be during the work week (writing last night’s post game recap didn’t help!), and in spite of my kids, two of whom woke up in the middle of the night, my morning went great. I played last night’s game highlights for my son, who plays hockey himself. I went to work with a smile on my face and a little pep in my step, hearing Rick Jeanneret scream “They chop away they score! Buffalo with 1.9 seconds to go!!!!” in my head all the way to my classroom.
Yep, my morning went really well. Guess it’s time for a reality check, then.
A quick look at the standings reveals that last night’s game, as exciting and uplifting as it was, still only counted as one win and 2 points – no bonus points handed out for entertainment value. That means that the Buffalo Sabres are still dead last in the Northeast Division – the only team with a losing record, as a matter of fact – and second-to-last in the entire Eastern Conference (although they are tied with 4 other teams at 9 points for the season). Worse, even though Buffalo’s offense tantalized fans with its potential last night, the defense continues to rank among the worst in the league in terms of goals allowed (3.73 a game), and is actually the worst second and third period defense in the NHL, since 32 out of the 41 goals they have allowed have come during those frames.
Last night? The Sabres gave up four goals (which seems to be a magic number lately), three of those coming in the second and third periods. They continued to allow opposing teams to live in their zone. They continued to make sloppy, or just ill-conceived, passes. They didn’t seem to be communicating very well when they were front of their own net, which put way more stress on Ryan Miller than there needed to be. Just look at how many Sabres are chasing the puck, which set up Brendan Gallagher for Montreal’s second goal of the night:
And let’s not forget the not one, not two, but three breakaway opportunities the Canadiens enjoyed last night. First: Rene Bourque in period two.
Next: Thomas Plekanec right at the opening of the third period.
Finally, just to make every Sabres fan in the world panic just minutes after Vanek had sent the game into overtime, we got Thomas Plekanec again, just seconds into the extra period. (For some reason, this video is unavailable.)
Granted, Montreal gave up some great scoring opportunities, too – but not like these. See, you’re supposed to save the shootout for after regulation and overtime, Buffalo. Maybe that memo got lost in all the lockout confusion?
I know we’ve all spent a lot of time complaining about Buffalo’s offense, but right now, averaging 3.1 goals a game makes Buffalo the NHL’s 8th best scoring team. It’s that -7 differential in goals allowed that has sunk Buffalo to the bottom of the standings.
So where does Buffalo go from here? The past two games have shown us that players like Tyler Ennis, Marcus Foligno, Mikhail Grigorenko, etc., have heard the call and are stepping up their game in order to lighten the load of Thomas Vanek’s line. As an added bonus, the Sabres are proving to be quite the feisty team this year, unafraid to drop the gloves, defend their teammates, and just plain throw their bodies around to get their opponents off their game. And what Sabres fan doesn’t love the fact that, in the last two games, Buffalo has managed to answer goals from the opposition pretty quickly, thereby depriving their foes of building up confidence and momentum? These are all good signs, but the Sabres need to turn “occasional” into “continual.”
Meanwhile, with trade rumors surrounding the defensive corps of the Sabres, it’s clear that the organization is looking to add something to this current roster. That’s fine – Lord knows how hard I have been lobbying for that – but as long as the roster stays pat, Lindy Ruff has to find a way to get his forwards and defensemen on the same page. Stop trying to make the hero pass; talk to each other so there’s not four Sabres chasing one member of the other team – for goodness sakes, start doing all of the little things my seven year-old’s team gets screamed at about in youth hockey! It’s not a good sign, hearing my son say things like, “Why are they all chasing the puck? Why isn’t someone in front of the net?” Don’t make me bring my kid to practice, you guys!
Needless to say, the Sabres have a real test coming up this Saturday when they head to New York to take on the Islanders. Check back in with us for our thoughts and game preview as we get closer to puck drop!!!