Published by hockeybuzz.com, 10-26-2016
If it was the 90's and "Iron Mike" Keeanan was the coach of the Buffalo Sabres, a third period performance like the one last night it would be bag-skate day at practice this morning. It wouldn't matter if the team had a three-game in four night stretch coming up with back-to-back day games, the latter of which is in Winnipeg. A third period collapse like the one last night where the Sabres gave up a three-goal lead then proceeded to lose the game in the shootout is unacceptable, especially when Philadelphia was coming off of a 3-1 loss in Montreal the prior night.
Playoff teams don't blow a three-goal, third period lead in a game like that.
The Sabres fell into some bad habits last night that cost them dearly and it began with a fourth line that was disjointed on their first shift of the third period. Rookie Hudson Fasching took a hooking call and the Sabres almost killed off the penalty. But with less than :30 seconds left, 19 yr. old Travis Konecny redirected a shot from 19 yr. old Ivan Provorov and just like that the Flyers found some life.
The Sabres played smart hockey until Buffalo defenseman Dmitry Kulikov caught Philly's Jakub Voracek with a bone-jarring late hit at the Sabres blueline. Kulikov was called for charging by te referee as they found that the head was not the initial point of contact. Although Kulikov got the penalty it was set up by Buffalo forward Johan Larsson who got a little too cute in his own zone and coughed up the puck.
The penalty came with 3:20 left in the game and just :24 seconds into the powerplay, the Flyers caught the Sabres out of position and a cross ice pass to Brayden Schenn was in the back of the Sabres net.
A poor decision by Marcus Foligno lead to Sam Reinhart eventually being called for a high stick. Reinhart blocked a shot in his own zone then headed up ice. Foligno picked up his drop pass and hit the Flyers blueline but instead of making the smart play and getting the puck deep, he tried to get too cute and sent an ill-advised pass back to Reinhart who had a man right on him. The puck was intercepted, Reinhart went to the box for the high stick and :36 seconds later the game was tied.
As much as you can fault the players in this one, they're an extension of coaching and management. Head coach Dan Bylsma's decision to move Reinhart to center between Tyler Ennis and Zemgus Girgensons did pay off as Ennis deflected a Girgensons shot to get the Sabres the 1-0 lead. But Bylsma, who's known for juggling lines as much as, if not moreso than former Sarbes head coach Lindy "The Tinkerer" Ruff also mixed up his defensive pairings.
Bylsma broke up his most solid d-pairing dating back to last season in Zach Bogosian and Jake McCabe. The idea was to ramp up Kulkiov's playing time but it backfired. There was very little chemistry between Bogosian and Kulikov, and it showed on the Flyers first powerplay goal, while McCabe was sent to the great outpost known as the Isle of Franson and hopefully returns unscathed for the next game.
Buffalo's fourth line fell apart in the third period. Even though they did manage a scoring opportunity, having rookie Hudson Fasching play with a checking-line/depth player like Nicolas Deslauriers and an NHL/AHL tweener like Derek Grant. Fasching himself doesn't look ready for prime time as he's still having some trouble catching up to the NHL game. There are more and better options in Rochester, like Cole Schneider or Cal O'Reilly and this fixation with Fasching caught up to the team.
One player who's been in Bylsma's doghouse for over a year is Girgensons. Often times last year Girgensons was part of an "out-line" that came on the ice after a penalty kill to stabilize things when restoring order to the lines, but he's been used very little in that role so far this year. He was also used extensively on the penalty kill before Bylsma's arrival and lead the team with three shorthanded goals in the 2014-15 season. Sometimes X's and O's are overrated.
What it comes down to is this--it was a team/organizational collapse last night from the decisions to bring up certain players, to the use of players and the construction of the defense pairings to the players themselves. We know about "Iron Mike" and his tough approach to players but when it comes to coaching and management, had this been the George Steinbrenner/Billy Martin NY Yankees, "The Boss" would have been all over Martin for a collapse like that.
For the second time in three games the Sabres coughed up a point after blowing leads in the third period--at Calgary and at Philadelphia. Those are two points that may be desperately needed during the stretch-drive if their in the running for a playoff spot.
Some may write this one off, but fact is, what transpired last night is totally unacceptable.