Saturday, January 28, 2017

Too much to overcome and a few days to think about it

Published by, 1-27-2017

When will they learn?

This Sabres team has shown the capability to score fast and score early and they've done so dating back to the return of Jack Eichel. Yet as of late, once they're in the lead, they start playing prevent and sure enough, they end up on the wrong end of the score. It happened a home in Boston in late December as they coughed up a two-goal first period lead. The same thing happened in Toronto 10 days ago and last night in Dallas they had a 2-1 lead after one period of play but coughed it up in the second period.

In each case Buffalo lead by two goals in the first period only to have their opponent score four unanswered goals and in the process they ended up losing all three games in regulation. To make matters worse, two of those games, against the Bruins and Maple Leafs, were four-point, Atlantic Division swings which really hurt.

In the game against the Bruins, Buffalo slowly gave away the lead while in Toronto, a poor second period did them in as the Leafs took the lead with three unanswered. Last night it was the Stars turn to score three unanswered in the second period and they were ahead 4-2 before Evander Kane brought the Sabres to within one goal with just over a minute left in the period.

These are menacing results when leading by two goals and a number of factors have lead to Buffalo's downfall. Defensive lapses, weak goaltending and penalties have all played a role as well as the inability to notch that all-important third goal. But not being aggressive on the puck with the lead may be the overriding factor in their demise. On far too many occasions players have sauntered their way to the backcheck, have been a little too casual in battles for the puck and far too often they're taking lazy stick penalties that puts their 30th ranked penalty kill on the ice too often.

Those factors were on display again last night as they allowed the as the Stars back into the game just after going up 2-0 and hey had no answer when Dallas was scoring four in a row. The Sabres made a valiant effort to come back and win the game, as they've done three consecutive times heading into the contest, but there were too many obstacles to overcome last night.

Even though they were outshot by a 35-11 margin after two periods of play, the Sabres were only down 4-3. Buffalo took over in the third period and turned the tables by outshooting the Stars by a 16-2 margin and managed two potential game-tying goals that were disallowed after a review in Toronto, the last of which came with 11 seconds left in regulation.

Of the two that were no-goals, the first one with 8:53 left had to be the one that really got to them.

After Sam Reinhart wheeled and put a backhand on goalie Kari Lehtonen appeared to have stopped the puck but half his body was in the net. Both Reinhart and Eichel ended up behind the goal with Eichel pointing to the puck over the goal line and Reinhart looking pretty confident that he'd just scored the game-tying goal. Even when Lehtonen got up, the puck was standing on end well over the goal line. Even the Dallas announcers thought that it might end up being called a goal. Take a look for yourself via this video from SPORTSNETCANADA:

The play went to the situation room in Toronto where they decided that there was no indisputable evidence to overturn the no-goal call. Nor should anyone in Buffalo expect that circumstantial evidence is enough to overturn a call.

What I, and every one in Sabreland should be barking about is the lazy work of the referee on the play.

Justin St. Pierre was where he should have been when he play was evolving, however most refs would've made a beeline to the net as soon as the shot started to cause a commotion in the crease. Not so with St. Pierre, he casually waltzed into the play with arms stretched out signaling no goal as he had predetermined that Lehtonen had kept the puck out of the net. Yet as the players unwound, there was St. Pierre staring at a puck on it's side well across the goal line. Had he got his butt to the net quicker and leaned over for a proper look, he'd have seen what Eichel saw, the puck over the line.

Would have loved to hear his explanation after Toronto confirmed the on-ice call but he offered a quick and indiscernible explanation.

Both refs had called the game pretty tight on the Sabres with ticky-tacky/questionable calls going against Buffalo all night, but that's not ultimately why they lost.

The St. Pierre gaffe on Reinhart's goal not withstanding, the Sabres lost because they didn't know what to do with a two-goal first period lead and it will need to be addressed during the All-Star break if they want any chance of making a playoff run.

They've done a lot of good things lately, but giving up two-goal leads three times in four weeks deprives them of desperately needed points.

Buffalo has four full days before they hit the ice on Tuesday at Montreal. They need some answers and have some time to think about it.

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