Keith Jones included Tampa Bay with Buffalo and Florida as "weak sisters" in a top-heavy division in his post-game comments on NBCSN. He also considered those teams as "easy points" for the division powerhouses.
After starting the season with games vs. Detroit, Ottawa and Pittsburgh, the Sabres finally faced off against a team that was within their "league" and they almost pulled away with two points.
They did get themselves a "loser-point" tonight thanks to a couple of powerplay goals, one by Cody Hodgson and one from defenseman Jamie McBain.
And they should give themselves a little pat on the back because they played a pretty solid game. Unfortunately, a couple of breakdowns and a weird sequence of events would be their undoing.
One of the breakdowns came on Tampa's first goal. The Lightning were bringing the puck out of their zone along the left boards. The task was made easier as two Sabres at the end of their rather long shift were headed for the bench.
That gave Tampa a three-on-two with trailing d-man Victor Hedman barreling down the middle. He took a pass in the Sabres zone, did a spin-o-rama and passed to Tyler Johnson who was streaking down the right wing.
The pass would have been off target had Christian Ehrhoff not gotten a piece of it. Ehrhoff deflected it right to Johnson who went top shelf just over Jhonas Enroth's shoulder.
The other breakdown was in OT.
Three Sabres--Tyler Myers, Mike Weber and Cody Hodgson were around the crease in a Keystone Cops' moment as Tampa's Alex Killorn went right to left and buried the puck. Thomas Vanek was the fourth Sabre on the ice at the time and was cruising the blueline.
The play everyone is talking about, though, is the penalty called on Vanek for high sticking.
With about six minutes left in the third the Sabres had a good forecheck going. Vanek was entangled with a Lightning d-man going around the back of the net when sticks got high.
The referee raised his arm and it looked as if the Tampa d-man was going off for interference. Even the announcer mentioned that the Lightning just finished killing off a two minute minor and they were about to have to kill of another one.
The puck went to Steve Ott at the left point and found it's way to Jamie McBain at the right point. The referee's arm still in the air signifying a delayed penalty.
As soon as McBain ripped a shot, the whistle blew.
The Sabres had raised their arms in celebration because Vanek had deflected the shot past Tampa goalie Ben Bishop. It would have given them a 3-1 lead.
Instead, Vanek went to the box for high sticking.
The question was asked, "how can the Sabres touch the puck and the whistle not be blown if the penalty was on them?"
The NHL's response, "At 5:21 of the third period in the Lightning/Sabres game, the end-zone referee had a Buffalo penalty on delay. The referee did not see Sabres forward Steve Ott touch the puck, which then rebounded to Jamie McBain whose shot entered the net simultaneous with the referee blowing his whistle. The net result was the correct call – no goal, penalty to Buffalo.”
Fine. Another "no-goal." (visit Bill Hoppe for more.)
The Lightning scored on the ensuing powerplay and the rest is history.
It's going to be a long season for Sabres fans. Just too many youngins and not enough upper end talent for them to make any noise. At least at this point of the season.
With five rookies on the squad it'll take time for them to develop, which will eventually lead to wins, which leads to confidence and hopefully more wins.
For now, though, it will be an uphill battle.