Wednesday, November 25, 2015

Not there yet.

Reprinted with permission from

For the second time in three weeks both the Buffalo Bills and the Buffalo Sabres played on the same night and after a Buffalo sweep on November 12th both teams lost last night. The Bills had a primetime spot on Monday Night Football and lost a heavyweight bout against a perennial Super Bowl contender in the New England Patriots while the Sabres began a three-game homestand with a loss to the St. Louis Blues, a team they haven't beaten since December, 2009.

The Bills were on the road in Foxborough, and were much more composed against the Patriots this time around, but the end result was the same--a 20-13 loss. The Patriots have now beaten the Bills 28 of the last 31 meetings. Despite definite signs of progress on defense and with a running game that has improved as RB Lesean McCoy has gotten healthier, when matched up against a championship caliber team like the Patriots, they're not there yet.

Over at First Niagara Center the Sabres were hosting the Blues for the second time in four nights to finish their series. Buffalo is in the midst of a rough stretch where they're playing some of the big dogs of the Western Conference in an two week span. They lost to the San Jose Sharks in overtime November 14th then finished 0-2 vs. the West leading Dallas Stars and 0-1-1 against the Blues in their next four-game stretch. They'll bid adieu to November with two games against the Nashville Predators, who are fourth in the West right now, sandwiching a home game against the Carolina Hurricanes.

Buffalo played a tough game last night but bounces didn't go their way and they were overtaken by a strong Blues team that has been to the playoffs the last four seasons, two of them as Central Division champions. They bottled St. Louis up for two periods but the Blues found a way to win. "They weren't going to go away," said Blues head coach Ken Hitchcock to the gathered media post-game They've got great structure, they've got speed, they've got tenacity, they've got size, and they are starting to mature. So you're going to have to pay a price to beat them. They are not going to give anything easy. We had to dig in a lot deeper than we were going and we did in the third period."

Sabres hit a few goal posts and had the game-winning goal go in off of defenseman Josh Gorges in losing for the first time this season while going into the third period with the lead. But, as their five game winless streak against some of the heavies in the West would indicate, they're not there yet.

Some notes from last night:

--With zero goals in his last 10 games, the question going round is, What's wrong with Tyler Ennis? Perhaps he should watch what the game-winning goal 5'10" 165 lb.  Robby Fabbri scored for the Blues last night. Fabbri was battling in front of the net as a shot pinballed off of him and defenseman Josh Gorges. Hint:  Ya can't score a goal like that if you're on the perimeter all game and right now Ennis should take a goal any way he can get one.

--Sabres captain Brian Gionta did everything but score last night. Gionta was credited with three shots on goal and one ear-piercing goal post during the game against the Blues. He also deflected a shot from the point by Jake McCabe not long after Fabbri put St. Louis up 2-1. He also pinched off a clearing pass behind the Blues net in the waning seconds getting the puck out to Jack Eichel who fired it wide.

--Speaking of Eichel, he's teetering on the brink of busting through his slump (zero goals and one assist in his last six games.) It seems as if every shot he puts on net is sneaky and has the goaltender reacting quickly. Dude love skating with the puck to the slot and rifling one towards the net. He was oh-so close last night a couple of times.

--Sam Reinhart has been fun to watch at times. Last night he pulled off a soccer-like header in the Blues zone and eventually corralled the puck. Then there are other times when he's too generous. We all know he's more of a set-up man than a scorer but he really needs to fire the puck when he has the opportunity. The Sabres are now winless in five games while averaging only one goal per game and the list of non-contributors is long. For a young team like this, a downward spiral can take a long time to overcome. I like Reinhart as a leader and he needs to take the bull by the horns when he has an opportunity like that.

--Linus Ullmark was stout in net including a stop on a Steve Ott breakaway with the Sabres on the powerplay. 

--For the second game this season, the Sabres were not called for a minor penalty. Marcus Foligno got five for fighting when he duked it out with heavy weight Robert Bortuzzo early in the first period, but other than that, they played a pretty clean game. However, for the fourth time in five games, the Sabres failed to capitalize on the powerplay (1-17.) That's not good for a team that's having a hard time scoring goals.

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