Saturday, November 7, 2015

Fifteen minutes of shame

Reprinted with permission from
The Buffalo Sabres started out last nights game vs. the Tampa Bay Lightning well enough. They'd been playing a successful brand of hockey that got them to a 3-1 record the previous week, entered the contest on a two game winning streak and it looked as if they'd pick up where they'd left off. In the first five minutes of last night's game they looked pretty sharp. They were hard on the puck and were making plays, were hitting, skating and passing the puck well.
Then it all fell apart. Something happened along the way and they reverted back to a team that looked as if they were back in preseason trying to learn a new system with a huge influx of players still learning about each other. And it deteriorated even further as they looked just plain lazy at times.
How ironic that Sabres GM Tim Murray was on WGR’s Schopp and the Bulldog show pre-game talking about how far they’d come in a critical area—puck support. Murray was pretty happy with how they’d been playing, especially in the last four games, and mentioned their puck support in all three zones.


Yet, after playing that way in the first five minutes of the game last night, assistant captain Ryan O’Reilly, of all people, was caught napping on the back-check leaving none other than Steven Stamkos wide open on the off-wing for an easy tap-in to put the Lightning on top 1-0.
Just over five minutes later, O’Reilly’s linemate, Tyler Ennis, was caught lollygagging on the back-check as Tampa’s Tyler Johnson played give and go with Alex Kilorn to make it 2-0 at the 11:35 mark of the first period. Nikita Kucherov would make it 3-0 with under two minutes left in the period as three Lightning players crashed the crease with nary a body on them.
O'Reilly (21:29) and Rasmus Ristolainen (24:09,) who didn't lock up Kucherov on the third goal, lead the forwards and defenseman, respectively, in average time on ice while Ennis (20:09) is third amongst forwards. With those players seeing that much ice-time, and with a rookie goalie in net, plays like that are unacceptable. It's no wonder head coach Dan Bylsma went off on his team after that stinker of a period.
"We hung our goalie out to dry," said Bylsma to the media post-game, "I said it pretty loudly after the first [period]."
Rookie Linus Ullmark was starting in his third consecutive game for the Sabres after posting a 2-0 record, 1.00 goals against average and a .966 save percentage in his previous two starts. Although the second goal may have been suspect, the first and third goals he had no chance on. It doesn't matter who you're playing, giving up opportunities like that will eventually bite you, but to give them up to the defending eastern conference champions will put you in a hole you can't climb out of.
"We gave a good team too many opportunities to score," lamented Bylsma, mentioning things like missed assignments, missed plays, [line changes]. "And they took advantage of it."
"It shows you just can’t loosen up even a little bit, especially when you meet a team like Tampa Bay,” Ullmark told Jon Vogl of the Buffalo News. “You’ve just got to keep focused every shift you have. Especially for me out there, I just need to be more focused right from the start."
Focused or not, that 15 minute span in the first period wasn't on Ullmark despite him taking the "we lost as a team, myself included" approach.
The Tampa Bay Lightning, who lead the league in scoring last season, didn't make it to within two wins of the Stanley Cup by not knowing how to play in all situations. Last night after taking the 3-0 lead and enduring a barrage of shots (21) from the Sabres in the second period, they locked it down in the third. Buffalo just two shots on goal in the third period with their first one coming from Marcus Foligno just over 10 minutes into the final frame. Jack Eichel registered the other one a little over six minutes later.
Eichel seemed a bit miffed after the game. With the post-game camera on him, he laid it out. "There were some lapses in our puck management in the first period and it's not going to cut it against a team like [Tampa Bay,]" he told the gathered media. "We gave them three goals in the first [period}."
The 19 yr. old rookie phenom scored the Sabres lone goal last night on a tough, beautiful individual effort. Eichel collected a pass from Buffalo's Mike Weber at the Tampa blueline, shrugged off a check from Andrej Sustr and headed towards the net. He took a hard cut to the slot with another defender in his face before ripping a quick wrister past Andrei Vasilevskiy to cut the lead to 3-1.

It was an individual effort worthy of high praise, "He shrugged off Sustr like he was a pesky gnat," exclaimed Sabres play-by-play man Rick Jeanneret. His partner, Rob Ray who was at ice level said after gushing at the numerous replays, "You wonder why he has five goals and no assists? 'Cause he does it all himself, he doesn't need help from the other guys."

True to a point, but the fact is his linemates, as well as the secondary scoring group, aren't getting the job done.
Last night, especially during the second period, the Sabres had numerous quality scoring chances, some with Eichel on the ice some without, but they couldn't light the lamp. Just prior to Eichel's goal, Sam Reinhart took a pass from O'Reilly on a give-and-go but misplayed the puck in the slot with no one near him. There were other opportunities as well but something happened along the way that denied a scoring chance. Fourth line center David Legwand channeled his inner Mike Grier and had two breakaways in the game. True to Grier's form, however, Legwand was stopped on one then misplayed the puck on the other. Rookie d-man Jake McCabe had a glorious opportunity from inside the circle but blasted one into the rafters, causing the Buffalo News' Mike Harrington to tweet, "McCabe with a [Alexei] Zhitnik" as the former Sabre was notorious for blasting shots way high and wide.
"We gave them three goals in the first," said Eichel, "but we still gave ourselves a chance to win if we bury our chances. It comes down to bearing down, wanting to score."
Just like he did.
Prior to the game last night Murray told Schopp and the Bulldog that he has a "pretty good team" but considers them to be "extremely unlucky so far this year" in the goal-scoring department. That much has been true through a good portion of the young season and last night as well. But that 15 minutes in the first period turned out to be a back-breaker and a comeback last night was unjustified for a team that's young and still learning how to finish.

It was what it was. In the grand scheme of things it's one loss to an eastern conference powerhouse that shook off it's early season doldrums.

Yet, the one thing any player can control is effort and if anything, the Sabres need to at least bring that every minute of every period of every game.

No comments:

Post a Comment