Monday, October 23, 2017

Last night's big win by the Sabres in Boston can be summed up by this...

Published by, 10-22-2017

"My sanity needed this."

Those four words typed by our own sbroads24 probably could have been uttered by virtually any fan in Sabreland as the Sabres overcame a three-goal deficit twice while on their way to a 5-4 overtime win against the rival Boston Bruins. Buffalo had not beaten the Bruins since December 26, 2015 (0-5-2) in Jack Eichel's first game as a Sabre back in his hometown of Boston and it looked as if they were headed for another defeat after, what else, a weak start.

There couldn’t have been a more harrowing start to this game. The Sabres found themselves down 2-0 at the end of the first period and were down 3-0 as long-time nemesis Brad Marchand scored his second goal of the game only :37 seconds into the second frame.

However, Buffalo began to turn things around when Jason Pominville scored and Jack Eichel answered a David Pastranak deflection goal to even the period out. The third period was all Buffalo as Benoit Pouliot scored 6:55 into the final frame and Evander Kane scored his team-leading sixth goal of the year to knot the game at 4-4.

The cool part about the third period was that this might be the Sabres team that coach Phil Housley had in mind. That period was clearly their best of the season thus far and it's a shame that it took this long for it to finally come out. Buffalo controlled the play against Boston for most of the period outshooting them by a 15-6 margin and outscoring them 2-0 . Passes out of the zone were mostly crisp as were those through the neutral zone and the combination created a controlled breakout which had the Bruins backpedaling the entire period.

Neither Pouliot’s goal nor Kane’s were pretty plays, but they both started with some pretty good forechecking and defenseman Jake McCabe sending pucks towards the net. On the first one, McCabe whiffed on a pass to Sam Reinhart but the puck found the stick of Pouliot who was in the slot and he made no mistake. On the second, McCabe sent a pass weak-side where Kane redirected a dribbler that barely made it over the goal line.

In overtime the Sabres simply dominated.

In overtime two Bruins—forward David Pastrnak and defenseman Tory Krug—got caught on the ice for over two minutes. The Sabres controlled the play and were able to make two line changes during that time. Ryan O’Reilly was the hero as he peeled to the front of the net and buried the game-winner on a backhand, but every Buffalo player who touched the puck in those two-plus minutes was responsible for basically making it an extended 3-on-1.

Pouliot had himself a breakout game, easily playing his best game in a Sabres uniform. Kyle Okposo was also noticeable for the right reasons which included a quickness to the puck we hadn’t seen since before suffering a concussion last season. Defenseman Marco Scandella was all over the ice and as he and d-partner Rasmus Ristolainen finally looked like they found top-pairing chemistry. Scandella had the primary assists on Eichel's goal and Ristolainen was a plus-3 in a game-high 29:40 of ice time.

Although this was a great, and surprising, comeback win for Buffalo, they still have some issues to iron out. One of them was summed up well when fellow hockey buzzard, Wetbandit1 wrote, “I just don’t get why the Sabres have to be down by 2 or 3 goals before they start playing like they’re capable of playing.”

And there’s the rub.

This is an NHL where parity rules and any team is capable of doing what the Sabres did last night. They still have a ton of work to do just to get above ground as they dug themselves a deep hole in the first eight games. They’re still having trouble coming out of the gate strong and their goaltending hasn’t been the greatest either. (It should be noted that Bruins backup goalie Anton Khudobin was in net and he looked shaky.) And there still are a few too many passengers. But this is still something very strong to build off of.
In addition to a big confidence boost, Housley may have found something in the lineup he has to work with. His line combinations in the top-six were interesting and seemed to work out rather well. Eichel was between two big, fast powerforwards in Kane and Justin Bailey while O’Reilly was flanked by Pouliot and Pominville. Five-on-five that group accounted for seven points on four goals and three assists.
He moved McCabe (2 assists, plus-1 rating) up to the second pairing with Matt Tennyson (who still has some issues) while 24 yr. old rookie Victor Antipin was with 29 yr. old journeyman Taylor Fedun. Both of them looked very good in their third-pairing roles as they displayed a quickness to the puck while making some good decisions with it as well.
The Sabres are home on Tuesday to faceoff against a beatable Detroit Red Wings club before travelling to Columbus, Ohio for the second of a back-to-back against the Blue Jackets on Wednesday. They should have gained a boatload of confidence with the win last night, but you're only as good as the game you're playing that night. 

Last night's win could represent a huge step back towards respectability but only if they can follow through with a strong game (and win) against the Red Wings.
That said, I believe last night's win saved some sanity amongst the faithful. Which is a good thing.



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