Reprinted with permission from hockeybuzz.com
As the horn blew to end last night's 4-3 loss at the hands of the New Jersey Devils, Buffalo Sabres rookie center Jack Eichel skated over to his empty net and gave it a whack with his stick. Although it wasn't a full-blown, two-handed chop sending splinters everywhere, it symolized the frustration this young group of Sabres are going through right now.
The loss was their second in a row, fourth in five games and sixth on the season. As it stands right now, Buffalo's four points puts them last in the division, second last in the conference and 28th in the league. In scoring three goals last night, only the second time this season they've scored three or more (CLB, 4,) the Sabres are 26th in the league in goals-for at 1.88 per game. Their seven goals at even strength are less than 50% of their 15 total goals scored. Only the Los Angeles Kings and Anaheim Ducks have scored less 5-on-5 goals and they've both played one game less than Buffalo.
It was particularly exasperating for the Sabres considering it was Hockey Fights Cancer Night in Buffalo. The pregame video of Sabres players visiting cancer-stricken children at Roswell Park Cancer Institute had eyes welled up throughout Sabreland. Eichel, Evander Kane, Ryan O'Reilly and Mike Weber were amongst the host of Sabres bringing a bit of happiness, if only for a couple of hours, to patients in a battle for their very lives.
And it was Eichel who escorted Matthew Eggers to lead 18 members of Carly's Club on to the ice for the ceremonial puck drop. Carly's Club, says it's mission statement, "exists to offer support programs to make life more manageable for children diagnosed with cancer and their families, and to raise funds for pediatric cancer research seeking cures at Roswell Park Cancer Institute." Each of the 18 children passed the puck to Eggers who dropped it between Sabres captain Brian Gionta and Devils captain. As they paraded off the ice, they received fist-pumps from the Sabres to a standing ovation from the crowd.
So it's within that context that the Sabres ended up frustrated at the end of the game.
They started out strong grabbing a 1-0 lead just over eight minutes in as Tyler Ennis ripped one home from the slot on the powerplay. After New Jersey tied it late in the first period, the Sabres came right back as O'Reilly scored just 2:31 into the second period. But three unanswered goals by the Devils including another late-period goal put the Sabres in a bind. Although Eichel would net his third of the season on the powerplay with :45 left in the third, they just didn't have enough time to finish the comeback.
Even though he did score Eichel pointed to little things in his own play and little things going wrong for the team in general as to why they're not getting it done at this point. "It's obviously nice to get [a goal] to give [me] a little confidence. It's just a simple shot to the net that ends up going in.
"I think I should look at that goal as [something] I should do more. Sometimes I'm trying to fine-tune things and make the perfect pass. Just get pucks to the net."
It's something the Sabres in general have been doing a little too much of, trying to get a little too cute. Head coach Dan Bylsma talked about letting the game last night getting away from them in the second period. "We didn't do a very good job in the first part of the second period with the puck," said Bylsma. "We had some turnovers and some opportunities to play with it and play in the offensive zone that we turned over, tried to make some hope-plays and it didn't work out for us." Perhaps Bylsma was alluding to a number of blind passes to the slot with no Sabres player in the vicinity that quickly went the other way.
On a positive note, however, the Buffalo powerplay is clicking. They went 2-for-4 last night and have now scored eight powerplay goals on 34 opportunities (23.5%) good for seventh in the league. But, if they hope to win more, their five-on-five play will need to be better and 24 yr. old O'Reilly said it begins with himself. Even though O'Reilly had a goal and an assist and was named the game's third star, his minus-3 rating drew his ire.
“My five-on-five play has got to be able to create. … I let the team down there," said O'Reilly post-game. He was on the ice for every goal in the game including the three even strength goals and one shorthanded goal by New Jersey. “I’ve got to take quite a bit of responsibility for that. I was on for every goal against. Being one of the top centers, I have to be better on the five-on-five play. I’ve got to be at least a plus or something to help out.”
Although they couldn't get it done on the ice, what they've done for the Carly's Club brought some joy into the lives of children who have an even tougher road to hoe. All-in-all in the grand scheme of things, it's a hockey game, and it's disappointing to lose a game that they could have won. But at least the kids walked away as winners.