Wednesday, February 1, 2017

Sabres toast in first game after All-Star break

Published by, 1-31-2017

That was ugly.

The Buffalo Sabres headed to Montreal having pulled out three of four wins prior to the All-Star break and were ready to get back to work. Problem is, they weren't anywhere close to being ready for the onslaught of the Canadiens and they ended up getting smoked 5-2.

Buffalo started well enough in the first period having survived all but one breakdown and left the first period down only one goal after being outshot by Montreal 17-11. But in the second period, the Sabres were completely overwhelmed by a very fast and very hungry Canadiens team and left the period down 4-0 as Montreal scored three goals on 13 shots.

The game was pretty much over when Max Pacioretty scored finished off his hat trick to put the Canadiens up 5-0. Buffalo scored two very late goals including one by defenseman Dmitry Kulikov, his first goal as a Buffalo Sabre, and another by Brian Gionta who scored on the powerplay to close out the scoring for the Sabres.

The goat of the game from a statistical standpoint, however, was Zach Bogosian who was on the ice for all five Montreal goals and finished with a -5 rating. Bogo may have played his worst game as a Sabres but he wasn't alone as the Sabres went all Poppin' Fresh and turned the puck over like they were readying for a church bake sale.

I stopped counting at five turnovers for Bogosian's d-partner, Cody Franson. The giveaway chart only credits him with three but there were more. Even so, on goal No. 3 he choked and gave the puck away in the Buffalo zone. Like analyst Rob Ray said, Franson had plenty of room to skate up ice with the puck before trying a pass, but even from where he was standing Ray points out that the ice is 85' wide and he sent a pass right to a Canadian lying in wait. On goal No. 4 he sent an unmanageable pass to Kyle Okposo just outside their blueline that caromed off of Okposo's skate right to the Canadiens who quickly turned it into a goal.

Bogosian looked like he was skating in quicksand tonight and the team in general didn't look much better. Tyler Ennis tired easily, Marcus Foligno looked like a borderline fourth-liner and Dmitry Kulikov looked as if he was still being hampered by his back injury. You just can't have that many players playing poorly against a team like Montreal. They'll kill you.

Some of Buffalo's core players looked pretty sharp and looked as if they were pumped up to be back on the ice. Jack Eichel was masterful with his skating and puck possession while Rasmus Ristolainen looked refreshed because of the break. MSG pointed out that he averaged over 28 minutes a game in January which was the most ice time in the NHL. And I don't think I've ever seen Evander Kane play as well as he's been playing lately. He was Johnny on the Spot all game, again, and just missed tying the score in the first period as Montreal goalie Carey Price just nicked his shot and sent it off the crossbar.

This is the type of game the Sabres need to pitch in the trash can and move on from, but hopefully head coach Dan Bylsma will make some changes up-front, mainly on the left side. As much as we might like Foligno and as much as Bylsma and Co. might like a big winger who can forecheck, he's doing more harm than good on a line with players way beyond his talent-level. He needs to be dropped down and so does Ennis for that matter although they may not be able to do both at the same time.

As for the defense, we can forget about any changes there as they just don't have the bodies with Jake McCabe and Josh Gorges out of the lineup.

Bylsma has his hands full with this one and so does GM Tim Murray. A few more games like this and the Sabres almost certainly will be in sell-mode. It's still too early to make that determination, but if they put up any more stinkers like this one, it will come sooner rather than later.

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