Wednesday, October 11, 2017

Sabres have three days to recover from the horror that unfolded yesterday

Published by, 10-10-2017

It was the type of scene in a movie that a parents would normally shield their children’s eyes from. The second period was more like a horror movie for the Buffalo Sabres, and a large contingent of young fans at KeyBank Center for Kids Day, as the period ended with the hometown team in a 6-1 hole vs. the New Jersey Devils. Those in attendance were not happy with what just transpired and the Sabres left the ice to a loud chorus of boos.

An ugly trend has been forming for the Sabres early in the season--shorthanded goals--and it was a momentum-shifting game-changer yesterday as well. Buffalo has given up a shortie in each of it's three games this season and have given up four total, which matches the four they gave up all last season. And those unsightly occurrences are coming at the worst possible moments. In the home opener against Montreal it came midway through the third period with the Sabres clinging to a 2-1 lead. They went on to lose the game 3-2 in a shootout.
In Brooklyn vs. the NY Islanders a one-goal deficit turned into a rout as Buffalo gave up two shorthanded goals in :50 seconds on the same powerplay early in the second period. The Sabres gave up another goal just seconds after their powerplay expired and they soon found themselves down 4-0 in a matter of 1:47. They ended up losing that game 6-3.
Yesterday Buffalo cut a 2-0 deficit in half with a powerplay goal as Evander Kane scored on a brilliant hustle-play that not only notched his third goal of the season, but also drew another penalty. Twenty-one seconds into the ensuing powerplay 19-year old Jesper Bratt scored off a feed from Adam Henrique on a two-on-one break and just like that the Sabres were down 3-1.
As ugly as the shorthanded trend has been, an even uglier trend has been forming very early in the season as this Buffalo team seems to collapse when adversity strikes. In Brooklyn vs. the Islanders it was that three-goal barrage that simply overwhelmed them. Although Kane struck back with two shorties of his own to cut the lead in half, 4-2, the intestinal fortitude wasn't there to fully come back.
Against the Devils yesterday, that shorthanded goal by Bratt opened the flood gates as New Jersey tacked on three more goals in the period. Shield your eyes, kids!
In the opening three games the Sabres have been outscored by a 14-7 margin with all of their goals coming from three players. Kane has four goals, two in each of his last two games, Jason Pominville scored Buffalo's only two goals in the home opener vs. the Canadiens and Jack Eichel potted his lone goal of the season against the Islanders.
The rest of the supposed scorers on the team have done nothing so far this year:
Ryan O'Reilly--0 goals, 1 assist, minus-3
Kyle Okposo--0g, 0a, -6
Sam Reinhart--0g, 0a, -6
Rasmus Ristolainen--0g, 2a, -3
This is a fragile team right now. They're saying all the right things in the post-game, post-mortem interviews but their words are ringing hollow. Yes, Ryan O'Reilly, we know you've been "invisible" and that you're "just out there skating around." We see it. And Jack, it doesn't take a rocket scientist to figure out that the Sabres are "just not doing enough" and that it's "not what anybody wants."
And yes, Nathan Beaulieu, we know that "turning the puck over [and it ending up] in the back of your net" is not a good thing.
Coach Phil Housley's face was described by a reporter as "ashen" at yesterday's post-game presser. Housley stood there searching something, anything positive to say about what just transpired and the only thing he could come up with was that they won the third period, which said reporter, Mike Harrington of The Buffalo News, aptly described as "putting lipstick on a pig."
It's safe to say that the honeymoon is over for Housley and man, that was a quick one. He needs to find some answers or it could really get ugly.
The Sabres are off today, as mandated by the Collective Bargaining Agreement which will give the coaching staff enough time to try and figure out what to do. The lines and d-pairings that Housley assembled have mostly been a disaster. Only the top line of Kane-Eichel-Pominville has scored any goals and only three of them have come at even strength with two of them being scored when with the game out of hand.
The hole on left wing has grown bigger with neither Zemgus Girgensons or Benoit Pouliot capable of skating top-six minutes although Girgensons has registered nine shots on goal to Pouliot's two. The Reinhart to center experiment seems to be floundering at best, bordering on a disaster at worst, as his stat-line is ugly, although maybe not as ugly as his one lone shot on goal through three games. And for as great a guy as Matt Moulson is, his lack of speed, even on the fourth line relegates him to a non-factor at best.
Early in the off season GM Jason Botterill went out and tried to bolster the blueline by acquiring Beaulieu and Marco Scandella. In three games we've found out that Beaulieu should not be anywhere near the top pairing and we're left to wonder why Scandella is skating next to borderline NHL defenseman Matt Tennyson on the second pairing. We were lead to believe Scandella would be on the top pairing with Ristolainen. Victor Antipin is a 24 yr. old rookie who came to North America after six seasons in the KHL. Welcome to the speed of the NHL, Victor.
And the goaltending? Sheesh. Not that they're totally to blame as the Sabres defensemen still don't know how to play a 2-on-1 break, but both Robin Lehner and Chad Johnson need to be better. Especially when the skaters are playing an aggressive style of play that can often lead to odd-man rushes coming back the other way.
On the bright side, Kane is off to a rollicking start with six points (4-2) in three games thus far and looks every bit the part of a player who loves playing the up-tempo style Buffalo is (or wants to be) playing. And...
...the penalty kill has been exceptional as they're 11-for-11 while scoring two shorthanded goals. Kudos to Housley for giving PK time to Kane and Eichel as they represent a threat headed in the other direction.
An 0-2-1 record to start the season isn't pretty, but there are still 79 games to play and no one said that this transition to a new, faster style of play would be easy. The ultimate fear of former coach Dan Bylsma, and many if not most coaches in the NHL, is that a track meet will lead to a disaster on the ice and sure enough, that's what we've been seeing these last two games. Anything and everything that could've gone wrong has for the Sabres thus far has. It's something they'll need to accept and dispose of as they prepare to leave Wednesday for a four-game West Coast swing.
"We just need to start feeling the success and getting this nasty taste out of our mouth and just trying to get some mojo going for us," defenseman Jake McCabe said to the gathered media post-game yesterday. "It's disheartening, but at the same time we're going to hit the reset button and come to work for our West Coast trip."
They'll need to find some intestinal fortitude and leadership as well, to guide them through adversity when it strikes on the ice. Up until now the only player to stand up and be counted when the chips were down is Evander Kane while the other leaders on this team are busy telling the media post-game that they're not getting the job done.
It's not like the Sabres haven't gotten pasted before. In Bylsma's first season the Sabres took a beating at the hands of Montreal as the Canadiens scored five unanswered goals beginning in the second period while en route to a 7-2 win in Buffalo. The Sabres followed that game up with a 4-3 loss to New Jersey and at that point of the season were 2-6-0.
Housley and the coaching staff will meet today and perhaps they'll get a visit from Botterill. More than likely the team will head to San Jose, the first stop on their trip, without tapping into the Rochester Americans, although winger Justin Bailey is off to a good start with two goals on six shots in the Amerks first two games. The 22 yr. old Bailey with size and speed was one of the final cuts in training camp.
Other than that Housley and Co. will be hunkered down going over tape of these first three games trying to figure out what went wrong. Hopefully no kids will be around to revisit the horror that unfolded.

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