Published by hockeybuzz.com, 2-26-2017
The first thing to take into consideration is that the Buffalo Sabres were coming off of their bye week which isn't good for any team. The silly NHL Players Association came up with this cockamamie idea that it's players needed a bye week, because, well, the NHL got something so the NHLPA wanted something in return. I guess we could say that one backfired as teams coming out of the bye week were a combined 4-12-4 as of yesterday, which equates to an unmitigated disaster. Chalk up another on in the loss column as the Sabres were downed by Colorado last night, 5-3.
A couple of the biggest problems that players seem to have coming out of a five-day hiatus from all things hockey seems to be the feel of the puck on the stick and timing, both of which were problem areas for the Sabres early last night as they fell into a 3-0 hole less than 15 minutes into the opening period.
Yet, even so, while trailing by one and even 2-0, the Sabres had opportunities against the league's worst team but a brilliant save hear, a luck one there and a near miss or two kept Buffalo off the scoreboard. They did, however, manage a powerplay goal with just under two minutes to play in the first period to cut make it 3-1 and the Sabres continued to mount a sustained effort in the second period, and despite some stellar goaltending by Colorado's Jeremy Smith, the Sabres pulled to within one midway through the second.
The teams traded goals and went into the third period with the Sabres down 4-3.
Sabres head coach Dan Bylsma finally has himself four lines to work with, granted, they have a $10 million fourth line but, so be it. The return of Sam Reinhart (who scored a goal last night) and Zemgus Girgensons (who had a primary assist) plus the fine play of call-up Evan Rodrigues, who scored his first goal of the season, allowed the entire forward group to fall into place.
The defense, however, is a different story as that group has glaring needs. Outside of the top-pairing of Rasmus Ristolainen and Jake McCabe, each defenseman in the bottom-four have glaring weaknesses which were exposed last night.
For as bad as Colorado is, the Avalanche has some pretty talented players in Gabriel Landeskog, Nathan MacKinnon, and Matt Duchene and all hit the scoresheet last night. Colorado's goals were products of sloppy play, bad angles and rust, but it really doesn't matter as the Avalanche got to 3-0 then went into the third period with the 4-3 lead.
With all that going against them, the Sabres still managed to keep it tight enough and when they went on the powerplay with 7:22 to go, the momentum seemed on their side. Landeskog went off for holding and a Buffalo powerplay that was already 1/3 hit the ice. A minute in Buffalo's Jack Eichel was hauled down in the Colorado zone with the puck no where near him and no call from either referee Brad Watson or Dean Morton. Instead of the Sabres having a 5-on-3, a fuming Bylsma had to watch as his powerplay was extinguished.
Even after that egregious non-call, the Sabres continued to press and pulled the goalie for the extra attacker with just over 2 minutes to go. A minute later egregious non-call No. 2 happened as Eichel was full stick-between-the-legs tripped right in front of Watson with no call.
And so it goes.
The Sabres are in Arizona tonight to take on the Coyotes. Missing out on two points last night, or even one, hurt in the standings as their seven points behind the Toronto Maple Leafs in the division and six points behind the Boston Bruins for the second wild card spot in the conference..
In looking at the standings the NHL's gotta be loving the Atlantic Division as it has an all-Canadian trio up top with Montreal in first, Ottawa in second and Toronto in third. Plus it has two Canadian teams presently in the playoffs out west in Edmonton and Calgary. Not bad considering that all seven Canadian teams missed the playoffs last season with Toronto and Edmonton finishing 30th and 29th respectfully.