Thursday, December 10, 2015

Speed kills...Sabres...again

Reprinted with permission from

It's one thing to be able to skate like the wind. It's another to skate like a whirlwind. And it's extremely difficult defending either.

After losing a 4-2 decision to the Connor McDavid-less Edmonton Oilers on Sunday night, the Buffalo Sabres proceeded to drop a 5-2 decision to the Vancouver Canucks last night. The predominant factor in both losses--speed.

The Oilers did it by outracing Buffalo all over the ice. Whether it was getting to a loose puck or sending an extra man flying towards a player like Jack Eichel in the neutral zone to disrupt a rush, Edmonton got to where they needed to be quickly. The Canucks, featuring the wizardry of Henrik and Daniel Sedin, worked their magic at high speed. As they do to many teams when they're on their game, Vancouver swirled in and around the Sabres defense seemingly always just a half a step ahead.

How fitting that the Canucks would work that magic on West Coast Express Night at Rogers Arena last night.

The West Coast Express was a Vancouver line of Brendan Morrison, Markus Naslund and Todd Bertuzzi that wreaked havoc against the opposition. At their peak during the 2002-03 season, Naslund had 48 goals and 104 points, "Big Bert" Bertuzzi had 46 goals and 97 points while Morrison chimed in with 25 goals and 71 points. "They could score goals – often times beautiful works of hockey artistry – at will," is how the Cam Tucker of Vancouver Metro put it.

And that's pretty much how it went last night for the 2015-16 edition of the Canucks. Every 'Nucks player tapped into that with Radim Vrbata getting the hat trick, Henrik Sedin getting a 4-on-3 powerplay goal and even Brandon Prust, he of the $5000 fine for spearing Boston's Todd Marchand and a 50-game goalless streak, scoring his first goal of the season.

The Sabres found their legs early in the game for a change and got off to a good start taking a 1-0 lead. But, they lost their composure after a penalty for too many men on the ice and never really got it back. By the time they snapped out of it they were down 4-1 headed into the third. Sam Reinhart scored his eighth goal of the season, thanks to some strong work below the goal line from Ryan O'Reilly and Jamie McGinn, which pulled Buffalo to within two, but it was not to be tonight.

Said O'Reilly to the gathered media postgame, "We came out with good jump, we were executing and I think we caught them a bit off guard and then once that (too many men) penalty happened we sat back and deviated from our game plan and didn't know what to do with their speed and it killed us," O'Reilly said. "The power play gives their good players time and they are going to find their confidence and start to make plays and they gained so much momentum off that."

That was it. In a nut shell.

Prior to last night's game, the Canucks were on a five-game losing streak and getting very little scoring outside of the Sedin twins. What helped Vancouver gain some traction were breakdowns in the first period by Buffalo's fourth line. They hit and were aggressive, but the Canucks made the passes, found open ice and buried their chances.

"We're on the road and wanted to count on them in those situations (where their getting quality ice time early,)" head coach Dan Bylsma told reporters post-game, "they were minus-2 in that first period for us and obviously puts us behind the eight-ball."

When all's said and done, the Sabres have a ton of team speed as well as tenacity and hockey smarts. But what they don't have, which separates them from the 'Nucks, is the experience, as a team. When they're on their game, the 35 yr. old Sedins can make many look like mere toddlers and when the team plays like that, they're tough to beat.

What the past two games show is that there's still a long way to go for this young Sabres squad as they work their way through a schedule that consists of differing teams with differing styles presenting different problems. Still not 100% confident in themselves or the systems employed by the coaches, Buffalo doesn't have the wherewithal as a team, neither do they as individual players and/or lines, to singlehandedly turn things around at a crucial point in the game. It's getting there as there have been glimpses at various times during their first 28 games, but there's still a ways to go.

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