Sunday, October 15, 2017

Sabres searching for first win (and secondary scoring) in L.A. (Yikes!)

Published by, 10-14-2017

When the Buffalo Sabres hit the ice at KeyBank Center for their season opener they had a new coach and a new on-ice philosophy based upon speed and generating shots. It went pretty well for them as most in attendance and watching on TV liked the up-tempo style of play and it seemed as if the players responded well to this new style. Everything was going swimmingly until the eight-minute mark of the third period when they lost their 2-1 lead on a shorthanded goal. To overtime we went and when they couldn't win it 3-on-3, well...we know how things tend to go in shootouts.

That shortie by Montreal Canadiens forward Philip Danault was like a first lightning strike in a huge storm that was about to overtake the Sabres. Dark clouds gathered over the team when they travelled to Brooklyn as the NY Islanders struck for three goals in a 1:47 second span of the second period. The first two were shorthanded goals and the third would have been had the Islanders penalty not expired a handful of seconds prior.

The bolts just kept coming afterwards as the New Jersey Devils came to town and scored three unanswered goals in the second period while on their way to a 6-2 win. The first goal of that trio was, of course, a shortie.

Perhaps we've seen the worst that this incarnation of the Buffalo Sabres has to offer. The stat-line through three games is pretty ugly as they went 0-2-1, were outscored 14-7, went 2/13 on the powerplay and allowed four shorthanded goals. About the only bright spot came from their penalty kill which snuffed all 11 opportunities against.

A four-game West Coast swing began on Thursday night in San Jose' and the Sabres tightened things up. Although they still lost, 3-2, they seemed to have gotten their game back to where it was against the Canadiens. Their skating was much better and it looks as if Sabres head coach Phil Housley found some line combinations and defensive pairings he can move forward with.

Zemgus Girgensons brought an edge and some balls-to-the-wall north/south skating to his line with center Jack Eichel. RW Jason Pominville was twice the beneficiary of Girgensons work and Eichel's deft set-up ability.

Left wing Evander Kane brought his four goals and a strong-skating, powerforward game to a line with center Ryan O'Reilly and seemingly brought the latter to life. Kyle Okposo, who missed the morning skate with an illness, was at his usual spot on O'Reilly's right side and generated five shots on goal for the game.

On defense, Marco Scandella was moved up to the top pairing with Rasmus Ristolainen and much maligned defensive defenseman Josh Gorges added some stability to the back-end.

Tonight the 0-3-1 Sabres hit The Staples Center in Los Angeles, California for a date with the LA Kings, which is rather frightening when you consider the Sabres haven't scored a goal against the Kings in Southern California since January, 21 2010. Buffalo blew one-goal leads twice in that game and lost 4-3 in the shootout. Sabres captain Craig Rivet was the last Buffalo player to score a goal at Staples Center as he snuck in from the point on the weak side and buried his first goal of the season.

Since then Buffalo has lost all four meetings in Los Angeles by the exact same 2-0 score and havd done so under three different coaches--Ron Rolston, Ted Nolan and Dan Bylsma (twice.) The Sabres were outshot in each of those four games by a combined 138-97 margin. If that weren't enough the Sabres have not won at the arena in Los Angeles since a 5-1 victory on October 23, 2003.

Buffalo heads into tonight's matchup against the 2-0-1 Kings with multiple goal-scorers in each of the team's first four games as Pominville and Kane each have a pair of two goal games. Unfortunately for the Sabres, other than those goals and one from Jack Eichel, no one else has been able to light the lamp.

After the loss to San Jose' Thursday night, Housley said that his players are not getting to the areas were goals are scored nor are they creating any traffic in front of the opposition goalies. "You've got to get dirty, to the hard area," he said to the media after practice yesterday. "We're going to continue to work on that and it's a big area we need to improve on. ... That's a niche guys make livings on."

Tonight's game is the first of 16 back-to-backs for Buffalo this season as they'll face the Anaheim Ducks tomorrow. Buffalo was 14-17-3 in the first game of back-to-backs under Bylsma the past two seasons, 12-19-3 in the second game.

Game time is 10:30 pm EST.

And for those who would like to revisit the game in which the Sabres last scored a goal at Staples Center, Paul Hamilton and Harry Neal are in the both in this highlight video on YouTube from mcsyns:

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