Published by hockeybuzz.com, 11-26-2017
Buffalo Sabres head coach Phil Housley didn't ride his team after they were shut out by the Montreal Canadiens last night, 3-0. Nor should they have been taken to task, save for a play or two which, of course, ended up in the back of their net.
Housley's Sabres played well for most of the game, at times clearly dominating play and puck possession. However, that's not quite good enough when you're playing the best goaltender in the game.
Montreal's Carey Price is so smooth and precise when he's on his game that he makes everything look easy. From his positioning to glove-work, crease-movement to puck-movement, everything about his game seems worthy of the huge contract he received on July 2. Although some would say that an AAV of $10.5 million is way too high, he's clearly the best player on the Canadiens and just because he's a goalie shouldn't diminish his status.
The Sabres went into Montreal last night having just snapped a seven-game winless streak (0-5-2) with a win over the equally hapless Edmonton Oilers. Buffalo defenseman Rasmus Ristolainen was out with an upper body injury for the duration of that slump and then some but came was back in the lineup skating over 27 minutes and adding two assists in the Sabres 3-1 win. Ristolainen and his mates played one of their best all-around games of the season and were looking to continue that same play the following night against in Montreal.
They accomplished that part of the equation but could not solve the Price puzzle. Buffalo pumped 36 shots on goal against the Canadiens but couldn't light the lamp. Actually, they did with less than a minute to play and trailing 3-0, however the suits in Toronto nullified Evander Kane's goal after a review. They deemed that Buffalo's Sam Reinhart had interfered with Price and overruled the goal.
Maybe "Price shuts out Sabres 3-0 in return to action" makes for a better headline than "Canadiens beat Sabres 3-1 in Price's return."
Regardless of that, the Sabres have been having trouble beating top-notch goaltenders for years and last night was no different. Price doesn't have many weak spots and it might take hours of reviewing tape to find just one. Every goaltender can be beat when there's traffic in front of him and/ or with players crashing the net jumping on rebounds. That's the way Kane scored his non-goal.
It's also advantageous to attack that way early, which is something Housley pointed out the gathered media post-game. "We ran into a hot goaltender who came back and made some terrific saves. If there's one thing, we could have tried to get to him a little earlier."
Housley said he "couldn't fault the effort" either. "
"I thought the guys dug down deep tonight," said the coach. "It was our sixth game in nine nights and [they] had every reason not to give it their best and put their best foot forward. I thought the last two games has been some of our best hockey and tonight we didn't get rewarded.
"I know the bottom line is winning. You can say what you want to say, but if we continue to play this way moving forward, we're gonna get a lot more wins."
That's the test for his Sabres team--continuing to play that style of hockey game-in, game-out. The team as a whole has been deviating from game-plan from game to game, period to period and in their worst moments, shift to shift. The inconsistencies have cost them dearly as they spend today away from the rink letting a 6-14-4 record an minus-28 goal differential sink in.
The Sabres have a very tough schedule coming up which begins with a game against the Eastern Conference-leading, goal-scoring machine known as the Tampa Bay Lightning on Tuesday. After that it's a home-and-home with the Pittsburgh Penguins Friday and Saturday before heading out on a three-game road trip out west visiting Colorado, Chicago and St. Louis.
It seems strange to say this 24 games into the season, but having his team play the same way every night, win or lose, may be the most important factor for Housley. The last two games were great in that aspect but anyone can follow the game-plan while winning. It harder to do when you're losing as doubt creeps in, players try to do too much, and the confidence in oneself and the coaching staff necessary to win erodes to the point where a losing month or two turns into a lost season.
As a player you either have faith or you don't.
And they're gonna need a lot of faith through this next stretch.