Thursday, November 10, 2016

WNY’ers should elect to stay positive about Sabres/Bills

Published by, 11-08-2016

It was a tough 2016 Election eve for Buffalo sports fans as both their teams went into hostile territory and came out on the wrong end of the scoreboard. The Buffalo Sabres headed to TD Garden and ended up with a goose egg in a 4-0 defeat while 3,000 miles west the Buffalo Bills gave it all they had but came up just short in a tough 31-25 defeat at the hands of the Seattle Seahawks.

Two teams with the same result by differing means.

The Sabres have been playing excellent hockey over the last five games and headed into Boston winning four of five. In the process they rode the stout goaltending of Robin Lehner but also ran into a wall named Frederik Andersen of the Toronto Maple Leafs for their only loss during that span. Last night they ran into a tough goalie in Boston's Tuukka Rask who pitched a 32-save shutout against the Sabres. Rarely does Rask get beaten on the first shot and last night the Sabres didn't have enough second and third chances to beat him.

Buffalo's best opportunity came at the 13:00 minute mark of the second period at the tail end of back-to-back double minors to Zemgus Girgensons and Jake McCabe.

Girgensons caught Bruins forward David Backes with a high stick in front of the Buffalo net that neither referee saw. Play stopped as a crumbled Backes lay on the ice. The officials conferred at center ice and it was determined that Girgensons was the culprit and since he drew blood a double-minor high-sticking penalty was called. Somehow I'm lead to believe that no official actually saw the high stick but circumstantial evidence--Backes on the ice after tangling with Girgensons and the latter headed to the penalty box even though the door was closed--convicted him in the eyes of the officials and off he went for four minutes.

A word to the wise to Girgensons, who's a stand-up player, don't do anything until the official tells you to.

Buffalo was down by one at the time and had aptly killed off 1:25 of the penalty when a seemingly harmless open ice check by McCabe in the Sabres zone drew a whistle.

With the Bruins in attack mode David Pastrnak came in on the right wing and McCabe put the body on him using leverage to bring him to the ice. The officials deemed that McCabe's leverage resulted in a slew foot-type check and sent him to the box for tripping. None to thrilled with the call, McCabe lost his cool and slammed his stick on the glass outside the penalty box. The refs didn't take kindly to that display and slapped on an additional 2:00 for unsportsmanlike conduct.

The Sabres were staring at a 5-on-3 situation for 2:34 and they held off Boston just enough to get through Girgensons second minor. The goal by David Krejci made the score 2-0 Boston with 3:55 left in McCabe's double-minor.

With less than :30 seconds to go in the McCabe penalties, and the score still 2-0, the Sabres caught the Bruins a little lax at their blueline, Brian Gionta jumped on an errant pass in the neutral zone and broke in all alone on Rask. Gionta deeked to the backhand and Rask got his blocker on it. as the puck went into the corner Gionta had enough time to corral it and feed it to Marcus Foligno who was wide open in front of the Bruins net. Problem is, he wasn't looking at the puck. Foligno's eyes were fixated on Gionta and the oncoming check his captain was about to take. The puck went right between Foligno's legs and he didn't even know it.

Less than a minute later the Bruins go up 3-0 and the game is essentially over at the 14:41 mark of the second period.

Meanwhile over in Seattle, the Bills were surprising the hell out of a national TV audience by taking the lead three times in the first half over the Seahawks. They blocked a punt the first possession of the game which resulted in a touchdown. After Seattle answered with a touchdown, quarterback Tyrod Taylor engineered a 10:00, 17-play drive to put the Bills up 14-7. It was the first time in six years, to the date, that any team had scored two touchdowns on the Seattle defense in the first quarter.

Seattle would answer again, but the Bills would come back with a 12-play, 62-yard drive for a field goal to make it 17-14. The Seahawks answered with consecutive touchdowns to make it 28-17 and then things really got interesting.

With a minute left to play in the first half Taylor drove the Bills to long field goal range with :03 left on the clock. Seattle's Richard Sherman was unabated to the kicker and ran into Buffalo's Dan Carpenter after he kicked the ball. Carpenter lay on the field after his leg connected with Sherman and the Orb of Confusion settled on the playing field.

The refs deemed there was personal foul for running into the kicker opting for a five-yard offsides penalty instead of a 15-yarder. Not only that, they sent Carpenter to the sidelines for a play because of the injury. The Bills had :03 seconds and no kicker to use so they opted to spike the ball and get Carpenter back on the field. With players rushing to their positions for the field goal attempt, the ref, as is customary stood over the ball until everyone was in place. He didn't leave the ball until there was :05 seconds left on the play clock. With the play clock at :00 the play went on as normal for a number of seconds and Carpenter buried a field goal as the refs were blowing their whistles for a penalty. The refs finally realized the play clock had expired despite an internal clock that suggested otherwise.

The Bills were charge with delay of game, the ball was moved five yards back and Carpenter pushed a long field goal to the right.

Did that change the outcome of the game? Not directly. Calls by officials rarely do. But missed calls or questionable calls do affect momentum and that one had an affect as the Bills went into the locker room two scores down instead of one. Plus they received the second-half kickoff. And to make matters worse, on the last play by Buffalo, two fouls could have been called against Seattle as Sherman decked a Bills wide reciever away from the play and the intended target of Taylor's final pass, Robert Woods, was knocked off course at the release of the football which helped cause the incompletion.

Sometimes we Buffalo sports fans think the system is rigged against us. It's not (at least not to my knowledge) but what makes it difficult are games like this where big calls go against them. It's another hurdle that poor to middling teams face. There's not a sports fan alive that can argue against the theory that superstars and championship teams often times get the benefit of the doubt. It's just the way it goes. The key in the process is to get to that level and that's what the Sabres and Bills are striving for.

I like the direction of both teams right now.

The Sabres are coming out of their rebuild nicely, albeit a bit slowly for some, despite having some holes. Missing Jack Eichel and Evander Kane doesn't help all that much, but they have a strong group of players that are beginning to play well under head coach Dan Bylsma.

The Bills missed an opportunity to make the playoffs last season and faced an extremely tough 2016 schedule. The playoffs were a bit of a long-shot to begin with and at 4-5, with a 1-4 conference record they'll need to run the table if they want to have a shot. That said, the Bills are a gutsy team that are a piece or two, dependent upon how one views Taylor as a QB, from breaking a long playoff drought.

In the case of head coach Bylsma, the Sabres are pretty set and should have some continuity heading into the near future when the youngins mature. However, in Bills country, head coach Rex Ryan may not make it beyond this season.

After an embarrassing loss to the NY Jets, many, myself included, called for Ryan's head. The Bills fired offensive coordinator Greg Roman instead and the team rattled off four in a row. Other than a weak performance against the New England Patriots, the Bills have been gutting it out despite two losses.

It might not be a bad idea to keep Ryan for one more season. His players have been running through walls for him all season and they've managed to stay competitive despite some crippling injuries. Bringing in another coach, the third one in three seasons may end up doing more harm than good.

That said, go out there and vote today and choose to stay positive about the Buffalo sports teams.

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