Published by hockeybuzz.com, 1-7-2017
Jack Eichel is right.
The Buffalo Sabres "pissed away a point," as he put it, to the Chicago Blackhawks on Thursday night. After Eichel gave the Sabres the lead early in the third period, a late 'Hawks goal with 2:04 left in regulation tied it and Buffalo proceeded to lose in overtime. It was a two-point game there for the taking but they came away with only one and Eichel was none too thrilled with the result.
Speaking about the last two games where the Sabres grabbed three of a possible four points against the NY Rangers and the Chicago Blackhawks, Eichel didn't mince words while talking to the gathered media after practice yesterday. "I think that's the problem," he said rather matter-of-factly with an obvious distaste in his mouth from blowing the Chicago game. "You're satisfied with three points and it's not good enough.
"We have a chance to get four and we should have gotten four. For us to sit here and say, 'Oh we played two of the best teams in the league and we got three out of four,' that's not good enough. We had [Chicago] on the ropes and we should have beaten them. Four points."
It was a tough 4-3 overtime loss to Chicago, especially after leading on three separate occasions and giving up the game-tying goal with just over two minutes to play in regulation. For posterity's sake, Anders Nilsson was in goal for Buffalo and you can chalk that up as one point lost in the standings.
There have been six other games where Buffalo has missed out on points via blown third period leads or have lost games after blowing multi-goal leads, the most egregious of which came in a game October 25 at Philadelphia.
The Sabres were on their final game of a four-game road trip featuring the first three in Western Canada and entered the third period ahead 3-0. Buffalo allowed three third period powerplay goals to the Flyers and ended up losing in the shootout. Nilsson was in net for that one as well.
On December 20 in Florida, the Sabres battled back with three unanswered goals to take a 3-2 lead in the third period only to relinquish it on goal with 3:51 left in regulation. They lost in the shootout with Robin Lehner in goal.
The Sabres suffered the same fate at Calgary on October 18 as they did in Chicago on Thursday. Against both the Flames and the Blackhawks, Buffalo opened the scoring but were answered every time by the opposition. In both cases they had a 3-2 lead early in the third period only to have their opponent tie it late and win it in overtime. Lehner was in net for Buffalo at Calgary.
Versus New Jersey at KeyBank Center on November 11, the Devils tied the game at 1-1 early in the third and lulled the entire arena to sleep before winning the game on a rare penalty shot in overtime. Nilsson was in goal.
The Sabres also blew a third period lead at Washington on December 5 as they allowed the game-tying goal at the 13:52 mark and lost in overtime. Lehner was in goal.
There's been much talk about the Sabres blowing a two-goal first period lead at home vs. the Bruins on December 29 and there should be. After a thoroughly dominating first period that put the Sabres on top 2-0, Boston came back with two goals in the second and grappled with the Sabres until scoring the game-winner at the 16:07 mark of the third. An empty-net goal with less than a minute to play sealed their fate. With a first period like that they should have been able to come away with at least one point but they failed. Lehner was in net for that one.
Teams blow third period leads all the time. Often times during the course of the season those failures are balanced out by third period comebacks and the Sabres have had their fair share. However, good teams know how to win and that includes burying a team when you have the opportunity or holding on to a lead late in the game. The Sabres aren't quite there yet and it's costing them precious points in the standings.
The Sabres have 37 points on a 14-15-9 record right now. Last season after 38 games Buffalo had 34 points on a 15-19-4 record. They ended up going 20-17-7 from that point forward and finished the regular season with 81 points, well below the cutoff line for the playoffs. Buffalo will need to come up with around 10 additional points down the stretch if they want to have a shot at the playoffs this season.
It's not an insurmountable task right now, but time's wasting and frittered away points only make it that much more difficult.
Luckily for the Sabres there is a lot of parity in the Atlantic division right now. Despite all the troubles Buffalo has had this season--from injuries to inconsistencies--the Sabres are still only seven points behind the third place Toronto Maple Leafs who've been on a tear lately going 7-2-1 in their last 10 games.
Montreal leads the division with 54 points, as they should. Les Habitants were preseason favorites to take the division and to this point they've lived up to that. Their +29 goal differential is by far the best in the division and only the Leafs are in the plus-column right now at +6. Everyone else is minus with Buffalo coming in last at -21.
All of those teams in the minus-column have also been struggling a bit as of late as none of them have won more than four out of their last 10 games. Buffalo has won three. And if you want to throw the owners of the second wild card slot into the mix--Philadelphia--the Flyers have 45 points, a minus-7 goal differential and are 3-5-2 in their last 10 games.
The Sabres should be kicking themselves in the butt as there was a huge opportunity to gain some ground in the standings. However, going 3-4-3 in their last 10 games with a minus-6 goal differential doesn't really help their cause.
From Sabres PR
Rasmus Ristolainen has 17 points (3+14) his last 17 games.
Sam Reinhart has recorded eight points (2+6) in his last eight games.
Jack Eichel enters tonight’s game on a five-game point streak, having tallied six points (3+3) in those games. The streak is tied for the longest of his career (excluding the seven-game streak that spanned the 2015-16 and 2016-17 seasons).
Kyle Okposo is currently on a four-game point streak (3+2).
Because it's an afternoon game, the Sabres won't practice this morning and one might assume that head coach Dan Bylsma will go with the same lineup versus the Winnipeg Jets today that he had in Chicago featuring:
When asked about Robin Lehner's strong play against the Jets yesterday, while looking for a commitment to a starting goalie, Bylsma smiled and told the media they'd find out today.
Lehner is 2-0 as a Sabres vs. the Jets and has stopped 62 of 64 shots (.969 save percentage.)