Knee Jerk Reactions: Buffalo Sabres Versus Washington Capitals

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If you believe in miracles, then tonight’s game featuring the Buffalo Sabres versus the Washington Capitals was an absolute must-win, must get two points affair for the boys in blue and gold.  If you believe in this little thing called reality, though, it was mostly a game of, “Which of you want to keep your job?”  I mean, it was just hours before the game started that we learned that Jordan Leopold had been dealt to the St. Louis Blues for two draft picks, and right before the puck dropped, all I was reading on Twitter was how GM Darcy Regier was telling anyone who would listen that he would talk to anyone who called, about anyone on the Sabres’ roster.   With all of that negativity leading up to game time, it was hard to get excited about a game with actual playoff implications on the line, albeit more so for Washington.  It was one of those nights when I found myself wishing I had left my phone and tablet at home, because when all you hear about a franchise is that they are willing to move pretty much anybody on the team, it makes you ask yourself, “Why did I even come to this game?”  For better or worse, Sabres’ fans, the team you watched tonight may not be the team you watch for much longer.  Stay tuned, and here are my quick thoughts on the actual game.

First Period:

This was one of the best first periods I have seen the Sabres play in quite some time.  Some people on Twitter wanted to qualify it as “the best first period the Sabres have played all year,” but I know that’s not true.  It was good, sure, but it wasn’t flawless, and I know they have had better opening periods.  No matter – the Sabres came out the way you would have expected them to come in both the games they played in Florida earlier this week: focused, aggressive, and determined to make the opposing goaltender work.  They were actually outshot by the Capitals 10-7, but it definitely felt like the home team had the better scoring opportunities.   The Sabres had a pretty decent amount of shots go wide of the net, too, which bothers me to no end, but minor complaints aside, the Sabres looked like they had a good understanding of what they wanted to do on offense tonight . . . a simple plan I like to call “Shoot the little black rubber thing toward the net.”  And they did!  Good for them.  Christian Ehrhoff got the scoring started early, when he deflected a pass/shot by Jochen Hecht past Capitals’ goalie Braden Holtby only three minutes into the game.  Suddenly, the crowd was into it, and the Sabres gave us a lot of things to cheer about, even though that would prove to be the only goal of the period.  Makes you wonder why they cannot start every game like this, but there’s something to be said about fearing for your job – did Leopold’s trade create this sense of urgency?  Hate to admit it, but you never know.

Second Period:

: Kevin Hoffman-USA TODAY Sports

Ladies and gentlemen: we have a Ville Leino sighting!  Yes, Sabres fans: Ville Leino was the star of the second period tonight.  He kicked off the period by combining with Tyler Ennis and Adrej Sekera to put one past Holtby only 1:19 into the frame, but his most important contribution came when he pushed the lead back to two at around the halfway point of the period.  Alexander Ovechkin had pulled the Capitals to within one while the Sabres were trying to kill off Ennis’ tripping penalty, and it was one of those goals that Sabres’ fans have seen too many of: namely, the “How did our defense leave that guy alone?” type of goal.  Those of us who have endured the Sabres this year cringe whenever the second period comes around, and Ovechkin’s goal had every fan of Buffalo pulling his or her hair out, and saying “Here they go again!”  But then Leino scored again, pushing that lead back up to two . . . and pretty much guaranteeing that the Sabres would fritter that lead away, since a two-goal lead is the WORST LEAD IN HOCKEY.

Third Period and beyond:

Oof.  Well, we knew things weren’t just going to go easy.  The Sabres had played well in the first, and good enough in the second, so Sabres fans knew it was just a matter of time before a clunker rolled into the arena.  The third period delivered, with Buffalo giving up a short-handed goal to Troy Brouwer to push its league-leading total up to 6 for the season.  Right after that, Tyler Myers was whistled for interference, and I was set to puke.  I was pretty sure Washington would tie the game up during their power play, but Enroth played like a star and stoned the Capitals for most of the period . . . until that last minute.  It’s a shame to admit it, but I felt that game-tying goal by Washington’s Mike Green coming, mostly because – well, why wouldn’t I?  You all felt it, too, because nothing about this team ever makes you feel secure.  “Snatching defeat from the jaws of victory,” as my uncle out in Seattle always says, and that about sums it up.  The Sabres should have won this game and kept Washington from getting any points; instead . . . yeah.  Another one goal game, another single point.  Silver lining?  That one point puts Buffalo ahead of Tampa Bay in the standings, and means the Sabres are still but three points out of eighth place.   In other words, the Sabres are just close enough to keep giving us all hope that they will somehow turn this thing around!

It’s a shame that the Sabres still cannot play a full 60 minutes, and what’s worse is that everyone on the face of the planet knows that.  The fans know it; the opposing teams knows it, and I bet the Sabres know it, too.  When the third period starts and the Sabres had the lead, there should have been a poll conducted: Will the Sabres win this game?  I’m pretty sure the results would have been overwhelmingly in favor of, “No!” based on the feedback I was getting on Twitter.  This is a pretty predictable team, and I dare say all the trade talk doesn’t help.  You cannot feel too confident when your GM is running his mouth, saying, “Call me – we’ll talk, about whomever you want.”  I really wish those sort of sentiments would be kept private in professional sports, but that’s probably why I’m not a GM.

On the positive side of things, Jhonas Enroth looked like a starting goaltender out there tonight . . . okay, maybe not in the shootout,

Kevin Hoffman-USA TODAY Sports

but then again, he hasn’t had much experience with those this year.  I hate to talk about who the starting goaltender will be next year, but with the Leopold trade and all sorts of trade talk swirling around this franchise, much of it centering around Miller, I can’t help but wonder if the Sabres are playing Enroth a bit more frequently in order to gauge whether he is their next guy between the pipes.  That’s certainly a story I, and the rest of the Sabre Noise staff, will be following closely for all you Sabres fans out there!  If that is the case, I think fans feel a whole lot better about Enroth than they did when the season started, but I still have to go on the record as saying he’s a great back-up, but not the guy I want starting most of the games for the Buffalo Sabres.

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