Monday, January 18, 2016

Powerless at the F'N Center as an inept 0-4 powerplay dooms Sabres.

Reprinted with permission from

After winning two games on the road by playing a rather tight game, and scoring some goals for a change, the Buffalo Sabres came back home to the First Niagara Center looking to keep it simple and pounce on opportunities as they faced the Boston Bruins in the first of back-to-back games this weekend.

They kept it simple, alright, to the point where it produced a very blasé game against the B's last night. With Boston invoking a tight-checking game and the Sabres unable to either any speed, the game resembled a Floyd Mayweather fight as it plodded along. Buffalo would throw some shots from the outside, which Boston blocked, but they failed to gain an inside presence which made for a rather easy night for Boston goaltender Jonas Gustavsson.

Boston gave the Sabres four powerplay opportunities but clogged the lane for all eight minutesa allowing very few shots to get through. With the score tied 1-1, the Sabres had three consecutive power plays in less than seven minutes but couldn't score and it was the powerless powerplay that really did the Sabres in last night as they dropped a 4-1 decision to the Bruins.

On the first powerplay, the No. 1 unit did not register a shot and did absolutely nothing while the second unit managed to get one shot on goal. Powerplay No. 2 began less than :30 seconds after Boston's first penalty ended and the units combined for four shots but couldn't get it done. It was a better effort, but still yielded nothing.

Boston captain Zdeno Chara then went off for delay of game just :13 seconds later and the Sabres attacked relentlessly as the Bruins best penalty killing defenseman was in the box. They blasted away from all angles but failed miserably at getting the puck through as all but one of their shots were either blocked or ended up wide. From there one got that sinking feeling. You just can't waste that many opportunities, especially against a good team like Boston.

Possession metrics will tell you that Buffalo possessed the puck a lot which, according to the theory, should lead to more scoring opportuinites. But that was not the case as that stat was rendered useless after David Legwand scored the first goal of the game for Buffalo. It was his first point in 18 games, his first goal in 21 games.

The Legwand goal was created by a hard forecheck by Legwand, Matt Moulson and Tim Schaller, but it actually started from the point.

Buffalo head coach Dan Bylsma had Rasmus Ristolainen out there with rookie Jake McCabe and the duo got the play going. Risto got the puck at the right point and passed cross-ice to McCabe who sent a shot to the net that almost made it through. Schaller grabbed the rebound from the crease, rang one off the post and a scramble ensued. Ristolainen hustled to keep the puck in the zone and sent it down low. It was corralled by a Bruins d-man but he lost it to Legwand who circled to the front of the net to send it home.

Although the goal was unassisted, but pretty much every Buffalo Sabre on the ice played a role in the tally.

Other than that, nothing from the offense. There may have been one stellar save by Gustavsson all night as he stopped 33 of the 34 shots sent his way. And he was giving up some juicy rebounds too.

Highlights were too few and far between for Buffalo but props should be given to Schaller who skated hard all game while playing a 200' game. He was the only player on the positive side of the plus/minus stat for Buffalo with a plus-1. Defensemen Mike Weber and Cody Franson were both even while the rest of the team were all in the minus column. Ryan O'Reilly and Zach Bogosian had the worst rating at minus-3.

Although Bogosian had a rough night, it would seem as if he's just about fully recovered from the injury that kept him on the shelf for the start of season. This might have been the best he's skated all season. He was also jumping into the play on offense more than at any point this season. But when Bogosian does things like that, his d-partner needs to cover and McCabe simply wasn't up to the task most times. McCabe did some good things, but he's been having a rough go of it as of late. Perhaps he'll be the one to take a breather when they insert Mark Pysyk back into the lineup probably as soon as tomorrow vs. the Washington Capitals at home.

Another Sabres player who had a good game was Johan Larsson. The spunky agitator was wreaking havoc all night while laying the body on the Bruins to the point where Boston's Max Talbot and he dropped the gloves.

Larsson laid a check on Talbot that almost put him in the Boston bench and the 31 yr. old veteran of 12 NHL seasons didn't take kindly to that. He went after Larsson and got him to drop the gloves. Both players stand 5'11" with Larsson outweighing Talbot by 200 lbs. to 186. It was a spirited bout without any face-smashing punches but there were enough connections to get the crowd riled up. It was only the third fight for Larsson while Talbot had dropped them 21 times previously.

And if you're interested in how Sabres goalie Robin Lehner looked in his first NHL action since the season opener, he looked large in net, he looked good playing the puck, he looked good making a couple of saves with his facemask and he looked good as he played big. On the bad side, he gave up some juicy rebounds, one of which was converted into the Bruins first goal, and had another one that got by him from a bad angle on a shot to the net.

Other than that, I like what Sabres GM Tim Murray said on WGR's Schopp and the Bulldog Show before the game. "If [Lehner] gives up six tonight," Murray told the hosts, "I'm not going to be the low of the lows and if he gets the shutout I'm not going to say there you go. There's going to be a process here. He's missed a lot of time."

Murray said that Lehner will be getting plenty of work the rest of the way and that he may not hit top form until later in the season. Here's how he laid it out. "I thought at the start of the year, after missing half of [last] year with a concussion, it could take him half a year to get his game back," he said.

"Now we've added a half year to the absence. We know it's gonna take time. I can't give you a [time-frame] in terms of games or of weeks. We'll see how it goes."

What would fully help his return, not to mention help back-up Chad Johnson as well, is goal-scoring. And something's amiss.

Perhaps Bylsma is happy teaching defense and two-way play while laying a foundation for the future. I get that and I'm on board with that. But they need to figure out how to get his star players some open ice and they need to fix the powerplay, not only in Buffalo, but in Rochester as well. While the Sabres were busy going 0-4 with the man advantage, the Amerks went 0-7 as they were shutout by the Binghamton Senators 4-0 last night. Their scoring woes are real bad as they've scored one goal in the last 11 periods of play.

Too bad because the Sabres will need to call up at least one player because of injury, as two Sabres  went down last night. In a weird play, Zemgus Girgensons suffered an upper-body injury while delivering a check in the neutral zone. He left the ice under his own power and both the hit and his departure from the ice-surface indicated that it might not be very serious. He went to the locker room and never returned.

Kane was also injured. In the third period he took a slash to a soft spot just above the knee in the Boston zone (no penalty called) and was slow to get up. He eventually made it to the bench but played limited minutes the rest of the way.

The Sabres take on the hottest team in the NHL right now in the Capitals. They can beat you six ways to Sunday and look to be Stanley Cup favorites at this point in the season. Washington has scored 42 more goals than the Sabres and have given up 30 less. They're on a five-game winning streak and are 8-1-1 in their last 10. As for the Sabres, they're sporting a woeful 8-14-2 home record. They are 0-5-1 in their last six at the F'N Center and have been outscored 19-8 in those six games.


On final note.

The theme of the Sabres for this season is, The Next Chapter, and it would seem as if they've finally turned the page on the last one. When looking at the Sabres' home page you'll notice the team finally replaced Tyler Ennis and Matt Moulson, the faces of last year, with those of Sam Reinhart and Jack Eichel.

Moulson is having a buy-out quality year while injuries and poor play have Ennis placed firmly in the rumor mill.

Nice move although they need to make some room for Ristolainen as well. Maybe even O'Reilly too.

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