Dear Buffalo Sabres fans: as I was watching tonight’s game, I found myself getting a little nervous. I wasn’t feeling that way because of the score of the game, although this game was a nail-biter up until the very end. No, I was actually feeling nervous because I realized that if the Sabres had somehow found a way to win tonight’s game against the Boston Bruins, I would be informing you that Buffalo would actually begin Monday a mere single point out of the eighth and final playoff spot in the Eastern Conference.
Tomorrow being April Fool’s Day, of course, I can only imagine what your initial reactions would be upon hearing such an unbelievable report. You’ve been through enough this year, fans, and I didn’t want you to feel at any point like I was playing a cruel prank on you.
Turns out, I had nothing to worry about, as the Sabres missed yet another golden opportunity to move up in the standings by losing 2-0 to the visiting Bruins tonight. Here’s what went right, and what blew up in the Sabres’ faces tonight.
For the second straight night, the Buffalo Sabres came out with a sense of purpose in the first period. They were skating hard, they had moments of sustained pressure on Boston’s end of the ice, they shot the puck on goal, and they were physical. Doesn’t it frustrate the hell out of you? These flashes of how well the Sabres COULD play – hanging tough with the Boston Bruins, being the better team on the ice for 40 minutes against the Washington Capitals – make you look at their record, and the fact that somehow they were only 3 points of eighth headed into tonight, and wish you could just smack your head into a brick wall a few hundred times. In a season full of what ifs, the most pressing one is, “What if the Sabres played with this much energy and sense of urgency every night, every period?” MSG’s Mike Robitaille summed it up best when he said that the Sabres would be in the middle of the playoff race, no doubt, if they played like this every night, all night long. That and a buck will get you a cup of coffee, I know, but it’s true, which is why it’s depressing and making me wish I had not brought it up!
Here’s a funny story: five minutes into the second, the Bruins got whistled for having too many men on the ice. During the ensuing penalty, the Sabres gave up a few short-handed opportunities and generated very little offense of its own. At one point, I made one of my usual sarcastic comments about how sad the Sabres’ power play is, and my wife looked up in total shock. ”That was a Sabres power play? I thought they were killing off the penalty.” That’s a 100% true story, my friends, and it sums up the second period for the Buffalo Sabres tonight: one wasted opportunity after another. Boston handed the Sabres three power plays in this period; the Sabres rolled snake eyes every single time. I give the Sabres credit for staying out of the sin bin for most of the night – no back-breaking, momentum-changing penalties to blame for tonight’s loss! – but they are starting to resemble a bad comedy sketch during their man advantages. I’m not saying Buffalo deserved to be ahead at the end of this period – they gave Boston enough chances that they could have easily been down two or three goals – but most teams would have tallied at least one goal under those types of circumstances.
Just like last night’s game against the Capitals, the third period is where things totally fell apart for the Sabres in this game. Pressure on the offensive end disappeared, and the Bruins played aggressor the entire period, wearing down the Sabres until David Krejci finally found the back of the net with just over seven minutes left in the game. Of course Krejci scored on that flurry in front of the net: he had been standing in front of Ryan Miller for about 19 straight minutes, with nary a person from Buffalo bothering to put a body on him. No – that’s okay, Andrej Sekera! Just watch the puck while Krejci pitches tent in front of your goalie. Mental breakdowns, no one fighting for the puck along the boards, no meaningful forecheck – the Sabres keep moving these bad periods around, from second to first, back to second, now to the third – but the bottom line is that they still give an entire period away to their opposition every single night, Is it a case of poor conditioning? Lack of mental toughness? Players not caring enough? All of the above? I wish there was a simple answer, but the fact that these flat periods still haunt the Sabres tells me that there are a number of reasons why they exist. It’s periods like tonight’s third that make you say, “Hell, these guys don’t DESERVE to make the playoffs,” because if they could find a way to eliminate them, they could have over 40 points and a winning record by now. Sabres, you are the definition of “Your own worst enemy.”
Anyone keeping score at home should note that Ryan Miller played a superb game tonight. He shoulders no responsibility for this loss, and if he is about to be traded, the asking price to acquire him should be pretty high. He is one game away from setting the all-time record for games played by a Sabres goaltender, so I hope the franchise allows him to break that record, because he has been one of the few positives coming out of Buffalo this season. Thanks for another great game, Ryan!
Another night, another great game by a Sabres goaltender wasted, and another chance to creep closer to the playoffs slips through the fingers of the Sabres. That’s four losses in a row now, and the impending doom of the April 3rd trade deadline is closing in on this team. I would be stunned if GM Darcy Regier makes less than four significant moves in the next few days, so keep checking in with us as we follow the news out of Buffalo intensely.