Reprinted with permission from hockeybuzz.com
Although there weren't very many of them this season, the performance the Buffalo Sabres put on last night at Air Canada Center in Toronto was a stinker. The Sabres could do nothing against the Maple Leafs after scoring on the powerplay four and a half minutes into the game and they eventually lost 4-1. Three of Toronto's four unanswered goals came in the third period as Buffalo suffered numerous defensive breakdowns and were generally sloppy all over the ice.
Then they lost their composure, most notably defenseman Zach Bogosian and the final nail in the coffin came with three and a half minutes to go when Toronto's Milan Michalek toe-dragged his way around a sprawling Carlo Coaliacovo and finished off a 2-on-1 by himself. Four Sabres were caught deep in the Toronto zone as they pressed to get the game to within one goal.
Buffalo had may have had legitimate reasons for playing a clunker like that. They're coming down the stretch after a trying season where they're better than last year's club, but still far away from challenging for a playoff spot and the wear and tear from the season may be taking it's toll. Toronto came into the game having won three of their last five games and unlike the Sabres, had a day off between games. Buffalo was playing the second game of a back-to-back and their third game in four nights.
Plus they were without, star rookie, Jack Eichel.
Eichel was felled by the flu and missed the first game of his career. The 19 yr. old phenom had been playing well as of late and had developed serious chemistry with fellow rookie, Sam Reinhart. Buffalo called up forward Daniel Catenacci for a spot in the lineup and head coach Dan Bylsma was forced to juggle lines once again. The only line he kept intact was the line of Johan Larsson, Brian Gionta and Marcus Foligno.
It's understood that Bylsma had to do some line juggling but the lines he came up with is a bit of a head-scratcher.
Bylsma had been saying most of the season that both Reinhart and Evander Kane had been playing well with Ryan O'Reilly, but he didn't want to mess up the chemistry between the two rookies upon O'Reilly's return. With Eichel out, Bylsma started Matt Moulson on the O'Reilly line and had Cal O'Reilly playing on a line with Reinhart and Zemgus Girgensons. Neither line looked particularly good as a unit and Bylsma would eventually break out the dancing shoes and do a line-juggling act.
It wasn't until there was less than 10 minutes left in the game that the coach finally put Reinhart on the Ryan O'Reilly line. But by then, the Sabres looked like they just didn't have it in them despite being down 2-1.
It was a maddening night for the offense as Toronto head coach Mike Babcock had his group of youngins frustrating the Sabres at every turn. Neutralizing Buffalo's speed is something Babcock has been able to do consistently against Buffalo even with a team that consisted of eight players 22 yrs. old and younger, as it was constructed last night. Bylsma and company either had no answer for it or the players, as Sabres analyst Brad May pointed out, weren't in the proper position for the breakout.
The Sabres sit at 68 points via a 29-34-10 record with nine games to play. With Rochester's playoff hopes fading, it might be time to see some of the future of the team. Nothing against Cal O'Reilly and Daniel Catenacci, but Amerks players like Justin Bailey, who had a hand in all three Rochester goals last night (2 goals and a primary assist,) and William Carrier, who's been on a tear lately, should hit the big club during the final games.
Bailey had a nice eight-game stint with Buffalo this season and did everything but score while easily adapting to the fast pace of the NHL. Carrier, who was a part of GM Tim Murray's first ever trade as a GM, has yet to get the call from the big club.
And, yes, with goalie Robin Lehner out for a while, it would be nice to see Jason Kasdorf get a start in net once he's recovered from his groin issues.
They couldn't do much worse than what we saw last night.