Sometimes, the hockey gods are cruel.
Following a week in which the Buffalo Sabres had been raked over the coals by the mainstream media, the blogging world, and the fans themselves, the Sabres managed to shake all of that negativity off last night and steal a 3-1 win right out from under the noses of the Florida Panthers.
Now, if the hockey gods were kind and just, they would have allowed the Sabres to continue to build a little momentum . . . but the hockey gods taketh away as quickly as they giveth, and man they were in a taking mood tonight, as they allowed the Sabres to take a 2-1 lead late in the third period only to rank the rug out from under them to turn victory in a 3-2 defeat at the hands of the Tampa Bay Lightning.
So what went according to plan for the Sabres tonight, and what went terribly, terribly wrong?
As has been the case for the Sabres most of the month of October, goaltending was the biggest strength Buffalo had on the ice tonight. Ryan Miller was not as spectacular as Jhonas Enroth was the other night, and his inability to control a rebound was what led to Tyler Johnson opening the scoring in the first period. Still, he faced 39 shots and really only gave up two goals, as the game-winner that was scored by Ondrej Palat saw Miller screened and physically blocked by his own defensemen. Hey – Miller was named one of the three stars tonight, which only proves yet again that the goalies for this team are keeping a lot of these games closer than they have a right to be.
Also a recurring theme for these Sabres? The young kids outplaying the veterans. Mark Pysyk finished the game with a +1 rating, a couple of shots, and a hell of a play in front of his net that helped prevent a possible goal. Brian Flynn was in the right place at the right time and got the scoring started for the Sabres. Nikita Zadorov, Zemgus Girgensons, and Marcus Foligno were all instrumental in the tic-tac-toe passing game that led to Thomas Vanek giving the Sabres the lead temporarily in the third period, the sort of passing the Sabres have been lacking all season so far. Just think how much different the Sabres’ record might be tonight if the vets were stepping up their game the way the young ‘uns are.
But wait – the recurring themes don’t end there! Sadly, the Sabres continue to set their alarm clocks for 40 minutes past puck drop, as they were outshot 6-12 in the first period, once again entering the first intermission down 1-nil. Being down a mere goal doesn’t sound like much, but to always have to play from behind takes so much out of a team, physically and mentally. You could see exhaustion on the faces and in the body language of many of Buffalo’s players be the end of tonight’s game; they are making the game too tough on themselves. I honestly could not tell you WHY the Sabres come out so flat in the first period, but I can tell you that, if Ron Rolston does want to continue coaching in the NHL, he is going to have to figure out how to get his team prepared to start a game. That’s all I will say about that hot topic.
Last, but definitely not least tonight: defensive breakdowns continue to provide Buffalo’s opponents with easy scoring opportunities. Just watch the video of the last two goals that the Lightning scored:
Why is Martin St. Louis WIDE OPEN that late in the third period of a 1-goal game? He’s MARTIN ST. LOUIS!!! And why are so many Sabres players on the ice during the play that resulted in the Lightning taking the lead? Skates too sharp? Gatorade spiked? Your guess is as good as mine. We all knew Tampa Bay was going to make a final push to close out the game, but those last two goals of the game were early Christmas presents.
It was a disappointing loss, to say the least, but until the Sabres can finally address these recurring problems they have been displaying during so many of their games this year, they only have themselves to blame. I don’t know when it is going to happen, but at some point this year this team is going to kick these bad habits to the curb and string some solid games together. Well, at least that’s what I told my eight year-old son as he went to bed dejected yet again. Crossing my fingers for that wish to come true!