Reprinted with permission from hockeybuzz.com
Yesterday we revisited a December, 2011 Buffalo Sabres game at Pittsburgh, one that may be construed as a turning point for the franchise. Buffalo went into Consol Energy Center that year treading water on an average season then proceeded to get shellacked 8-3 at the hands of a depleted Penguins team that was without the likes of Sidney Crosby, Kris Letang, Jordan Staal and a host of others.
With new owner Terry Pegula and his inner circle in the owner's box that night for their first visit to Pittsburgh as the new regime in Buffalo, the Penguins struck quick that night just about two minutes in, tacked on another goal four minutes later then took a 3-0 lead with less than 10 minutes gone in the opening period. Even though Buffalo would cut the deficit to 3-1 in the first period, Sabres fans knew better than to think that the group on the ice could muster up enough intestinal fortitude to rally. Sure enough, the Penguins scored three unanswered and that Buffalo squad packed it in, which was typical of that team in that era.
My how times have changed.
Although the Sabres came up short last night dropping a 4-3 decision, they went down fighting. This young Sabres squad went down 2-0 in the first just like the aforementioned team did, but they worked hard to get back in it.
After Pittsburgh's Pasqual Dupuis scored just :56 seconds in and teammate and Patric Hornqvist made it 2-0 just over six minutes later, Buffalo would turn the tide.
Sabres forward David Legwand helped out defenseman Josh Gorges gather the puck in the corner and sent it to Rasmus Ristolainen a the left point. Ristolainen hesitated for a second and sent a smooth shot towards the net. The shot went into a host of players, was tipped by Tim Schaller, then tipped by Jamie McGinn for Buffalo's first goal of the night at the 14:25-mark.
Just over two minutes later, Nic Deslauriers was the beneficiary of some nice passing in the Penguins zone. Marcus Foligno beat a Penguins check on the half-wall circled the puck behind the net and got it out to Ristolainen at the right point. Ristolainen in-turn sent it right back behind the net to a waiting Ryan O'Reilly who quickly fed Deslauriers in the slot for a bang-bang play. The shot went top-shelf and the game was tied with just over three minutes left in the period.
It would be easy to nitpick individual players and/or coaches decisions this year with the team at 3-7 and plenty of mistakes being made by youngins and vets alike. But at this point of a young season, and with this team still learning about themselves, their teammates and their coaches, it might be better to judge this team how they're playing overall. And if you put this team up against the team from December 17, 2011, there's no comparison. It's a totally different team.
The Sabres once again showed some resiliency last night after the Penguins went up 4-2. They bombarded Pittsburgh with 23 shots in the third period (during the 2011 Sabres/Pens game Buffalo totaled 19 for the game) and were able to get one in as Matt Moulson got the deflection with 2:26 left in the game and Johnson pulled for the extra attacker.
Although they couldn't convert with the Penguins short-handed and the goalie pulled, Buffalo put a lot of pressure on Pittsburgh to at least make them sweat. The Sabres ended up outshooting the Pens 24-4 in the third period, 53-29 for the game.
There's no time to dwell on coming up short as the Philadelphia Flyers will visit Buffalo tonight. The Sabres played Philly on Tuesday and came away with a 4-3 OT win compliments of a Zemgus Girgensons goal in the 3-on-3 extra session.
--Forward Tyler Ennis was out last night with a lower-body injury suffered in the Philly game on Tuesday. As reported, he wasn't at practice on Wednesday in Pittsburgh due to a "maintenance day" and was replaced in the lineup by Schaller, who was playing in his first NHL game of the season.
--With the team playing it's third game in four nights, and with goalie Chad Johnson giving up 14 goals in his last three games, head coach Dan Bylsma might go with Linus Ullmark in net tonight. Ullmark started in his first NHL game last weekend and allowed four goals in a loss to the New Jersey Devils.
--O'Reilly leads the team in scoring and has 10 points in 10 games on the season thus far. He also is tied for the team lead in powerplay goals with two and leads the team in powerplay assists with four. And, from the Sabres press release, O'Reilly's 56.9% faceoff percentage ranks fourth in the league amongst players with at least 75 draws.