Thursday, October 20, 2016

Some positives for Buffalo after letting a point slip away in Calgary

Published by, 10-19-2016

The Buffalo Sabres gave up three one-goal leads last night against the Calgary Flames and eventually lost in overtime 4-3. Although disappointment was the prevailing theme after the game, there were a lot of positives to take away. Sure the Sabres blew three one-goal leads, including two in the third period, only to lose in OT, but they've managed points in back-to-back games on this road trip and now stand 1-1-1 on the season after an ugly opening night loss. There was frustration in the locker room overall for losing a point but the team in general has to like where they are right now.

First off, Buffalo was able to get a point in the second game of a four-game road trip. After grabbing two points on Sunday against the Edmonton Oilers, the Sabres managed to come away with another one with their OT loss against Calgary. Last season on the same western Canada road trip, which will end in Vancouver on Thursday, Buffalo went without a point.

The team in general looks to be at ease with head coach Dan Bylsma's systems. Often times last night we saw an entire group turn in unison and head up ice in what looked like synchronized skating. Even Zemgus Girgensons, who has been struggling for various reasons, which included having trouble with his place in the system, found himself in the right spot twice and scored a goal on the second one. There were lapses and at times, especially on the overtime goal, where the team was caught chasing, but for the most part they played in unison.

Buffalo's special teams are excelling. The penalty kill has yet to allow a goal in three games. They successfully killed off three penalties in the first two games, which is also a tribute to playing in control, then they held the Flames scoreless on six opportunities. And last night with the team down two men for two minutes an errant Calgary high-stick caught Ryan O'Reilly and the players on the ice played keep-away for nearly 30 seconds to burn off time on the delayed penalty. The powerplay has been doing it exactly as diagramed and is 4/16 through the first three games with at least one PP goal in each. Matt Moulson, who had a horrendous season last year may have found a spot in and around the net on the top PP unit. He has two goals on the season, both on the powerplay.

It's not surprising that O'Reilly and the rest of the Sabres on the ice were aware of the delayed penalty situation last night and played keep-away. Most of the team is playing smart hockey especially the O'Reilly and his linemates--Sam Reinhart and Kyle Okposo--on the top line. O'Reilly and Reinhart have innate hockey sense to be able to play with anyone in any situation, as we saw that last season, but what we've seen so far is that Okposo brings those very same traits and the three on a line has been a joy to watch.

Sabres forward Marcus Foligno has been playing quite well since Bylsma reunited him with center Johan Larsson and right-wing Brian Gionta and he may have found out just how far playing angry can take him. After sending a puck off the referee's skate last night that landed on the stick of Calgary Flames forward Michael Ferland, who scored to tie the game, Foligno's rage at the ref turned positive 2:39 later. Foligno got the puck at center ice with a head of steam, pulled off a nifty move against two Flames defenders and sent an angry wrister that smoked Calgary goalie, and former Sabre, Chad Johnson. Ah, vindication.

That said, the players weren't happy with the loser point last night. Captain O'Reilly, who's always hard on himself as he strives for perfection told the gathered media after the game, "We were lucky to get one point really. The way we played was pathetic at times and it starts with myself. I had so many chances, I have to bury them. That was really nothing what we wanted. We could have walked away with a win here and we have to respond now."

Foligno, who yelled at the ref and slammed his stick on the ice after the turnover had a cooler head post-game. "You can yell all you want but the ref has the right to be there," he said. "It's a bad bounce and you just suck it up."

The refs didn't exactly have a great game as evidenced by the OT goal. Reinhart took a cross-check from behind and into the boards behind the Buffalo net in what's normally a penalty. But the refs let it go, Buffalo's players started chasing and Sean Monahan found himself all alone in front of goalie Robin Lehner who had no chance on the play.

Speaking of Lehner, despite his pedestrian stat-line of 1-1-1 with a 3.33 goals against average and .890 save percentage, he has looked good. His off-season work-out plan looks to have made him quicker and he's come up with a big save or two every game thus far.

The Sabres are hurting without forwards Jack Eichel and Evander Kane who accounted for 43 goals last season, but on the positive side of it, the team is sticking to the systems in place and as a whole is coming to the rink with their work boots on. After the stinker in the opener, in general the Sabres have put together two pretty strong games.

Buffalo leaves western Canada after their game with Vancouver tomorrow and will fly home before they head out to Philadephia for a tilt with the Flyers Tuesday, October 25th.

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