After a couple mysterious moves by the 14th place Buffalo Sabres, the team skated out with a different complexion against the 5th place Ottawa Senators.
Gone was rookie Mikhail Grigorenko, whom was sent back to the Quebec Remparts of the QMJHL. Rather than keep him with the team to at least practice and workout with the NHL club, the team decided it was better to send a big fish back to a little pond.
Gone was former 2nd round draft pick TJ Brennan, who was dealt to the Florida Panthers in exchange for a 5th round draft pick. The Sabres spent 3 years developing Brennan and let him go, despite knowing that veteran d-men such as Robyn Regehr, Jordan Leopold, and Alex Sulzer may not be with the team much longer.
In was Ville Leino, whom had not competed in an NHL game in nearly a year. With only 21 games left in the season, this becomes an important time for Leino, who could be bought out by the Sabres if he heavily underperforms just as he did last season.
As the first period got underway, the new look of the Buffalo Sabres lines performed well:
- Thomas Vanek-Cody Hodgson-Jason Pominville
- Leino-Tyler Ennis-Steve Ott
- Marcus Foligno-Kevin Porter-Brian Flynn
- Drew Stafford-Jochen Hecht-Nathan Gerbe
This makeup allowed the Sabres, for the first time this season, to roll the lines, and it created a good pace and scoring chances for Buffalo, as Leino and Ennis almost connected for a goal just minutes into the game. Shortly thereafter, the Sabres jumped out to a 1-0 lead as Mike Weber collected his first goal of the season on a nice set-up by Leino. Ott also got an assist on the goal.
With 5 minutes to go in the period, Stafford notched his 3rd goal of the season, as he posted up in front of the net and knocked in a loose puck. Gerbe and Leopold gathered assists as Buffalo jumped out to a commanding 2-0 lead. Near the end of the period, Gerbe stood up to Senators pest Chris Neil in a minor scrum.
In the next stanza, the ‘second period Sabres’ returned after an absence of a few games. The team lacked hustle, was outworked by Ottawa throughout the period, and could not get pucks deep into the zone. The results showed on the board, as the Sabres skated off down 3-2. A very flukey goal by Chris Phillips tied the game at 2 halfway through the period, and poor coverage by Christian Ehrhoff and Hecht led to a Kyle Turris wrap-around goal for a Senators lead. The period was highlighted by one of the best fights of the season, a lengthy blow-for-blow duel between Regehr and Neil.
In the 3rd period, the Senators relented a bit, and played on their heels for most of the period, in an attempt to cling to their one goal lead. Eventually, this turned out to be a poor decision, as Stafford notched his 2nd goal of the game with 8 minutes remaining. The game-tying goal was a lucky one for the Sabres, but they failed to take control and gain momentum from it.
In overtime, an errant penalty by Ehrhoff gave Ottawa a chance at a 4-on-3 power play, and a shooting gallery ensued. Finally, a perfectly placed precise shot by Turris gave him his second goal of the afternoon, and the Senators the victory. Although the Sabres gained a point and moved into 12th place, the other squandered point was a critical one. With only 20 games remaining, and all games being division games, the Sabres are in desperate need of every point they can grab if they want to hold hopes of clawing into the playoffs.
The Sabres have gained points in 7 of their last 9, but those efforts still have them wallowing near the bottom of the Eastern Conference. The Senators are now 3-0 against Buffalo this season. If that record was the other way around, the Sabres would be sitting in the final playoff slot right now.
Ultimately, the Sabres were again a victim of their inability to put together a full 60-minute effort. Buffalo, for the most part, played a solid game. Yet, the atrocious 2nd period led to their undoing. As was noted in the postgame interviews by both Ryan Miller and coach Ron Rolston, the Sabres became ‘comfortable’ after their stellar first-period performance.
Credit is due to the Senators, as they played in their 11th one-goal game in a row, just one shy of the NHL record. Ottawa also found themselves playing in their 8th overtime in their last 13 games. The experience and resiliency that the Senators have been gaining in all of those close games, was just not something that the Sabres could overcome.
Buffalo outshot the Senators 36-34, was outhit 17-14, and lost the edge in faceoffs by a 35-30 margin. The Sabres power-play remained atrociously inept, going 0-3, and squandering a chance to win with 3:35 left in the 3rd period.
Next, Buffalo hits the road for a 7pm match against fellow cellar-dwellers tomorrow night, televised by NBC Sports Network.