Monday, March 13, 2017

Sabres do hometown fans a solid

Published by, 3-12-2017

Individually there's a lot of pride in Buffalo Sabres players. Some are simply hockey players motivated 100% of the time, others fall into the trappings of riding emotional waves while still others need someone or something to shake themselves out of the cocoon that they've built around them. During the course of a game it all can contribute to a full performance when they're aligned positively or they it can amount to an absolutely dismal performance 180 degrees to the negative.

Inconsistency represents all the points in between.

For the Sabres inconsistency was the key word in defining this team up until the Chicago game just before their bye week. Beginning with the 5-2 loss to the Blackhawks late last month and coming off of Friday night's 4-3 loss in Columbus, the needle ended up fluctuating on the negative side from meh to disastrous, hence Buffalo's 1-6-2 record prior to their game last night vs. the Blue Jackets.

And as we've seen all season, said inconsistencies are not only game-to-game, but quite often are found period to period and even shift to shift with this edition of the Buffalo Sabres. Countless times throughout the season, players and coaches lamented after a loss that the team needs to play a 60-minute game.

Last night it looked as if that needle was going as far to the negative side as possible for the second time in three games. On Tuesday, with their playoff hopes vanquished for all intents and purposes, the Sabres laid their biggest egg of the season in front of their fans as they dropped a 6-3 game vs. the Philadelphia Flyers. There have been bad performances by this club all season but to allow six even-strength goals to a team that's worse than them at scoring 5v5 was a bottom they'd yet to hit all year.

When Columbus upped their lead to 3-0 late in the first period last night, it looked as if the Sabres were going to reach a new low. Yet they somehow managed a comeback the likes of which we haven't seen since December, 2009 when Buffalo overcame a three-goal deficit to win in regulation vs. the Pittsburgh Penguins who, ironically enough, were coached by present Sabres bench boss Dan Bylsma at the time.

Drew Stafford (2 goals, the first on a penalty shot) Paul Gaustad and Jason Pominville (on the powerplay) scored for Buffalo that night and Patrick Lalime (wearing #40) relieved Ryan Miller 1:28 into the second period and stopped all 27 shots he faced on the way to a 4-3 Buffalo victory in front of the home crowd who left the arena ecstatic.

Last night it was another #40 coming into the game in relief as starter Robin Lehner took over for Anders Nilsson to begin the second period. Lehner stopped all 24 shots he faced, including some fine stops to keep it 3-2 and one incredible stop on Cam Atkinson with just over 30 seconds left in the third and Buffalo up 4-3.

For the second night in a row special teams was the difference. On Friday in Columbus the Jackets went 2/3 on the power play in their win. Last night they went 0/3. For their part the Sabres went 0/1 at Columbus in the loss then went 2/5 in last night's win.

The positives kept coming in the second period as much maligned (deservedly so) Nicolas Deslauriers provided the spark that the Sabres needed as he set up defenseman Jake McCabe for the Sabres first goal just 18 seconds into the second period. "D-lo," who's the lowest forward on the totem pole, snagged a point for the second straight night which happen to be his first two points of the season. He went was placed by Bylsma on the top line to give the team a spark but when no willing pugilist was to be found on the ice, he got on the forecheck and fed a pass right into a pinching McCabe's wheelhouse.

McCabe's goal was his third of the season and the third by a Buffalo defenseman in the last two games and he almost had another as he rifled one off the post less than three minutes later. Also on the positive side, there was a Matt Moulson sighting. He lit the lamp for the first time in 11 games as he scored his team-leading 10th powerplay goal. Sam "The Quiet One" Reinhart bookended McCabe's early second period goal with one of his own and only :03 seconds left on the clock in the second period.

From there it was some solid goaltending at both ends of the ice until Jack Eichel, with Buffalo on the powerplay, took advantage of a broken Columbus stick and sent a cross-ice rocket to Evander Kane who promptly buried the feed into a gaping net for the lead. Eichel would add the empty-netter with a few seconds left, after a nifty pass to himself in his own zone, for the 5-3 final score.

This edition of the Sabres has seen it's fair share of difficulties this season and they could've easily packed it in last night and methinks the Blue Jackets, who had such an easy time through the first 20 minutes, were expecting that as well. But in a league where parity is the norm and almost any team can come back against a complacent opposition, the best teams step on the throat of a downed opposition and Columbus just couldn't do that last night.

For today, we'll refrain from the obvious short-comings of the Sabres and allow for a little sunshine as the Sabres are set to embark on a three-game West Coast swing beginning Tuesday against the San Jose' Sharks. They'll travel to Los Angeles to take on the Kings Thursday before heading down I-5 to meet the Anaheim Ducks for yet another back-to-back on Friday.

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