New-Look Buffalo Sabres Lose Heartbreaker in NJ, 1-0 in Overtime

40 seconds.

Mar 7, 2013; Newark, NJ, USA; Buffalo Sabres goalie Jhonas Enroth (1) makes save during the second period against the New Jersey Devils at the Prudential Center. Mandatory Credit: Jim O

That’s all that stood between the Buffalo Sabres taking the New Jersey Devils into a shootout for the fourth consecutive time: 40 seconds.

Dammit!

After battling the Devils through sixty-four minutes of scoreless hockey, the Sabres lost a tough one as ex-Sabres player Steve Bernier beat Jhonas Enroth glove-side with a mere 40 seconds left in OT.  The shot was a beauty – no fault getting beat on that one, Jhonas – and was one of the few times all night that a Sabres’ blueliner failed to get in front of a New Jersey player or outright block a shot when given the chance.  I’m not laying any blame on Mark Pysyk for allowing Bernier to get that shot off; I’m simply pointing out that the Sabres’ defense was active and in great position pretty much all night long, which, along with the stellar play of Enroth, is why the Devils failed to find the back of the net until the extra frame.

It’s not just the Sabres’ defense that has been playing better lately, and this is where my “new-look” tag in the headline comes into focus; the Sabres in general have been playing more competitive, gritty hockey since Darcy Regier and Ron Rolston were told to clean out their desks and hop the next train out of Dodge.  From Drew Stafford showing his physical side, to Ville Leino doing everything except putting the puck in the back of the net (and again, I’m not complaining – he’s been the victim of bad luck lately), to Buffalo’s d-men (and their forwards, too) blocking shots and being really active with their sticks and getting deflections on shots and passes, the Sabres have become the sort of team that now finds itself in a position to win games in the closing minutes of games.

Nov 16, 2013; Toronto, Ontario, CAN; Buffalo Sabres defenseman Henrik Tallinder (20) shoots the puck against the Toronto Maple Leafs at Air Canada Centre. The Maple Leafs won 4-2. Mandatory Credit: Tom Szczerbowski-USA TODAY Sports

One play in particular stood out for me tonight as an example of the sort of smart, fundamentally-sound hockey that the Sabres have been displaying more and more since Ted Nolan took over as coach. It was in the middle of the first period, and the Sabres had just turned the puck over.  The Devils had a 2-on-1, which actually turned into a 4-on-2.  Henrik Tallinder had gotten back on defense and was about to follow the puck behind the net when he realized there were two more New Jersey players behind him, joining the play.  Instead of over-committing to chasing the puck, Tallinder hit the brakes and flicked his stick out at a centering pass, knocking it harmlessly into the air and denying the Devils a shot attempt on the play.  It was a great individual effort in a game that was full of such moments (Zemgus Girgensons blocked shot in the third being another example), and is the sort of play that fills me with hope as we head into the third month of the season.

Now, as better as these new-look Sabres have been, they still exhibit a major fear of scoring.  I mean, how else can we explain the paltry fifteen shots they managed to fire at opposing goaltender Cory Schneider tonight?  I don’t want a team just firing terrible, contested shots willy nilly . . . but when you have three power plays in the second period, and can only manage two shots, you just are not shooting enough, my friends.  Too often, Sabres players were passing up shots in order to make that extra pass in the hopes of getting the best shot, when in reality, the best shot during a power play is often a shot through traffic, or a rebound that results from a shot through traffic.   As MSG’s Dan Dunleavy pointed out during the broadcast, the New Jersey Devils are the least penalized team in the NHL, so you have to jump on power plays when the Devils hand them to you.  It’s a recurring theme when it comes to the Sabres: Shoot.  The.  Puck!

Overall, I am pleased with what I saw out of the Buffalo Sabres tonight.  As staff writer Andrew Amerk pointed out in the comments section of last night’s Three Stars post, no fan with any hockey sense expect these Sabres to be “world-beaters,” but we do expect them to compete and act like they actually give a damn.  That wasn’t the case in the month of October, but it seems to be the case now as we head into December, and I’m okay with that.  As long as Buffalo plays like they did last night and tonight, I won’t have to explain to my eight year-old son that the team loses, “Because they suck.”  Now I can tell him they lost, “Because the other team was better tonight.”  Hey – moral victories count for something in my house!!!

Topics: Buffalo Sabres

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  • Dano

    Good article/read. Thanks Rich!

    I think Nolans system of working hard and playing with some grit is starting to emerge. The part that is really hurting them is not coming out of the gate with full speed. The last few games outside of one quick goal ( then going back to sleep ) it seems they needed a whole period to wake up. Then it was 3/4ths of a period. Its now down to a half period..

    They are becoming more competitive. The last few games havent been out of reach.

    • http://SabreNoise.com/ Richard Spalding

      Thanks! Yeah, the Sabres still need to come out the gates ready, but I agree with your assertion that instead of sleep-walking through an entire period, they are now recovering much faster. This team isn’t built to won now, but they can still compete night in and night out, which is all we fans want to see. The past few games have actually been fun to watch – go figure!

  • qwicwted

    Kinda hard to win when you only have 13 shots on goal, oooopps I meant 15. We need more shots on goal so that our guys who stand in front of the net can pick up the garbage.

  • PaulR

    Prediction: Ville Leino will score ZERO goals this season. He has average skill, below average size, and non-existent grit or heart.

    • Jes

      I think he’ll get 5 this year lol

  • Jes

    Did anyone see Lafontaine’s interview during intermission? He said he’s not close to getting a GM yet, kind of baffles me. Ahhh well probably has a bigger list of candidates then we expected.

    • Joe

      I think its because he wanted dudley and dudley resigned with montreal

  • Rob Dotzler

    Moral victories, I expect this to be the last season in the foreseeable future where this will be acceptable in our house. No cup for the team I was rooting for since I was of single digit age, moral victories are becoming increasingly difficult for me to suffer through. With the health conditions I have, knowing anything can happen in my foreseeable future means I can’t wait forever to witness a championship season in my hometown. I witnessed my parents pass away, being rabid Bills and Sabres fans, watching a fat goose egg in the “anything other than AFL Championships” to hang their death masks on. That’s no longer good enough in our home. Gotta keep the faith, but it sure is tough lately. Too bad we weren’t a baseball/lacrosse, family I guess.

    • Rob Dotzler

      Sorry I got stuck on the last line of an otherwise interesting article.

      • http://SabreNoise.com/ Richard Spalding

        No problem – believe me, I’m not looking for moral victories for long. I told one of my friends today (a Leafs fan, but honestly a great guy and a great youth hockey coach) “I can only use the rebuilding excuse for so long until I just have to admit the team sucks!” This year, we still have to fight through Darcy’s “sell ‘em for picks” approach and live with the fact that we have a bunch of second-liners at best playing in the 716. Because of that, I expect hustle, hard work, and the desire to be competitive. Next year, however, I expect bigger and better – my understanding and patience are not infinite!!!

    • Jes

      I hear ya man. I’m only 28 years old but I’ve already had 2 kidney transplants and am awaiting for a 3rd. Currently been waiting for one since 2005. Anyways on that subject anyone know someone who is willing to donate?
      I want to see this team win. Honestly we could see our team turnaround in about two years time. Which is pretty good considering what we look like right now. Hell we could turnaround next year if the new GM pulls off a few huge trades.