Friday, November 20, 2015

Stay onsides, and while you're at it, Buffalo, how about a better start?

Reprinted with permission from

For the third time this young season the Buffalo Sabres scored a goal but had it overturned because they were deemed offside because of a coaches challenge. It happened in the very first game of the season vs. Ottawa nullifying a game-tying goal that would have clearly pushed the momentum in the Sabres favor. Instead, the score remained 2-1 and the Senators would leave the First Niagara Center with the 3-1 victory.

Last Thursday with the Sabres in Sunrise, Florida facing the Panthers, a goal by Tyler Ennis was overturned because he couldn't keep his skate on the line while he and Jack Eichel were entering the Florida zone. The goal would have put the Sabres up 2-0, but it remained a one-goal game until Jonathan Huberdeau tied the score about four minutes later. After enduring constant pressure from the Panthers and a barrage of shots, Buffalo would hold on for the win.
Last night against the western conference-leading Dallas Stars, it was deja vu all over again as the Sabres tied the score at 2-2 only to have the goal overturned when it was deemed Ennis had put himself offside. Like the Ottawa game to open the season, that momentum-changer was taken away and Buffalo would eventually fall to Dallas by a 3-1 score.

"I knew it was offside even before the puck went in," head coach Dan Bylsma told the gathered media of Ennis' non-goal. "It's certainly disappointing."

Despite being on the wrong end of the coaches challenge three times after scoring a goal is sticking to his guns about the new coaches-challenge rules. Even when one media member asked the coach if he was comfortable with the new rule in light of the fact that some goals are wiped out by inconsequential (according to the reporter) offside calls Bylsma replied, "It hurts not to score a goal and this is the third one. But it's the right call.

"I like the fact that we're getting it right."

It would seem as if that reporter was not happy with successful challenges, especially when three of them have gone against the Sabres with two of them possibly being momentum-shifting game-changers.

But, simply put, tough crap. That's the breaks.

Look, the Sabres lost to Dallas last night in large part because they got behind the Stars a mere :51 seconds into the game. They had to play catch-up from the get-go and it was even worse after the Stars went ahead 2-0 with 12:15 left in the third period. This is a Dallas team that went into the game with a 9-1 record when leading after one period, 7-0 when leading after two. One thing you don't want to do is play catch-up, and that's exactly what the Sabres ended up doing.

Ennis was asked almost exclusively about the non-goal by reporters after the game, but I didn't hear anyone ask him how he lost a battle along the boards then loafed while his man darted to the front of the net to score the games first goal :51 seconds into the contest. Something like that is unacceptable, especially against one of the top teams in the league.

But at least he knows what he needs to work on. "Offside has been around for a long time," he told the reporters, "so I gotta get to know that rule a little better."

This really isn't about bagging on Ennis because I like the player and I like what he can bring to the table. Nor is it about, any other Buffalo player involved in a successful coaches challenge against, it's more about the Buffalo media and the sounds of a Wahmbulance beginning to grow louder. Every one knows the rules and everyone knows the new coaches challenge. It doesn't matter how long the play is in the offensive zone nor does it matter how "inconsequential" an offside call might seem to be to the reporter. Those are the rules everyone plays by. Does it suck that the Sabres have been done in three times by a correct call? Sure does. Do I want a box of Kleenex and a sympathy card? Hell no.


I wish Dallas head coach Lindy Ruff would've stayed true to his colors and stifle the speed and offensive prowess of his Stars team, just like he did while he coached in Buffalo.

That was sarcasm.

Throughout the latter years of his tenure in Buffalo, Ruff was accused by many of doing exactly that by supposedly making his skill players play too much defense. Fact is, once he lost Daniel Briere and Chris Drury, he couldn't coach like he did the previous two seasons because a ton of talent, speed and skill walked out the door with them.

After the 2006-07 "Ferrari Sabres" blew by every team in the regular season while scoring an average of 3.63 goals/game, it was all down hill in that department. Ruff, knowing that he didn't have the horses, leaned more towards a scheme emphasizing defense. It turned out to be mostly unsuccessful, Sabreland grew grump and he was soon labeled a defensive coach who stifled creativity and goal-scoring.

Bylsma, who had coached against Ruff on numerous occasions, with a loaded Pittsburgh team that was at it's Zenith, had a different view.

"In the matchups between Buffalo and Pittsburgh," began Bylsma when answering a question about Ruff on WGR's Howard Simon Show, "Lindy was one of the coaches that always changed the way his team played. Sometimes even within the season he'd change how they played and what they did.

"Right now he's got his team playing as fast as any team in the league. Yes, he has fast players, but the way they're playing is fast and I think Lindy's right now on the front of that with how he's getting his team to play."

Kinda reminds me of what they were saying about the Sabres back in '06-'07.

Does Ruff have the coaching prowess to lead the Stars to the Stanley Cup? Who knows, but it sure looks like it right now. How ironic if he won the Cup with Dallas, eh?


Quick notes:

--The return of LW Evander Kane is imminent, and boy will it be welcome. At least from Jack Eichel's perspective. Eichel has been creating space for his line mates, but they're just not getting the job done, as his two assists will attest to. I like Johan Larsson, but he tops out as top-six forward and is really more suited for top-nine duties. Bylsma started out the season with Kane and Eichel on the same line, as both have a comparable skill-level and can fly, but he split them up before Kane's injury.

--Having Kane back will also allow Bylsma to juggle starting lines a bit, something he hadn't done during the Sabres recent four game points-streak (3-0-1.) Even if Kane comes back, Buffalo will not have a full compliment of starters as Zemgus Girgensons is recovering from the hit he took against San Jose.

--D, Zach Bogosian returned to the ice tonight, making his first appearance of the 2015-16 season and he logged just over 21:00 of ice-time playing on the second-pairing with Jake McCabe. He had :40 of short-handed ice-time and helped keep the Stars off the scoresheet on their only powerplay opportunity. For posterity's sake, heading into last night's game, the Sabres penalty kill ranked 28th in the league at a 75% kill-rate (11/44.) Bogo also flashed his speed joining Eichel on the rush but found himself a little to deep to get a good shot away.

--Rookie goaltender Linus Ullmark was pretty stout in net, but has had a tendency to get anxious and lean forward and practically lunging at a open shooter in the slot. He did it last night on the second goal. Granted, F, Tim Schaller whiffed on a hit at the Buffalo blueline and a trailing Alex Gologolski  was left all alone in front, but lunging like that makes Ullmark look small. However, he is a rookie and all indications right now would lead one to believe that he could end up as a bona fide starter. If and when he irons out some wrinkles in his game.

--D, Cody Franson was on the third d-paring with Mark Pysyk and he was seen quite often on the left side defensively. Franson skated 17:35 and had an even plus/minus. He had stated after his signing that he doesn't like playing the left side.

--F, Sam Reinhart has been used up and down the lineup so far this season and he continues to contribute. Last night he was on the third line with Schaller at center and Marcus Foligno at left wing. He was on the powerplay, as usual and, as usual, Reinhart  provided a screen in front of the Stars net that lead to the Ryan O'Reilly goal. Reinhart was also the victim of the non-goal on the coaches challenge as he rifled one home from the right faceoff dot. On the non-goal, Reinhart told the media, "Yeah, it was frustrating. Clearly it was offside, but you've got to regroup."

Which is what they'll need to do at St. Louis on Thursday.

Maybe they'll even work on that blueline thing a little bit beforehand.

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