After a stressful week (and another stressful week coming up), I was ALL SET for this game. I got back to my apartment at 4pm, made some food, drank some wine, and put on my Miller tshirt. Yes, I'm a bit of a hockey geek, but I look forward to Sabres games, especially like tonight when I was able to catch the whole game.
Things couldn't be better. I listen to the pre-game show and Gaustad is back in and looks like Tallinder is ready to go too! Rivet is recovering quickly and he looks like he's fast-tracked to coming back. I mean, a good injury report? Very rare. Plus, Olie the Goalie is in net for the Lightning, who's in the back-up role this year.
And then finally the game starts. The Sabres get off to somewhat of a slow start. Then, out of nowhere, the Lightning strike twice, quickly. The first is on the PP, and then 2nd follows 40 seconds after. Macarthur scores out of nowhere (RJ hardly had time to give the call on these three goals), but just as the teams were about to get off the ice for the end of the 1st period, Ryan Malone scores for the Lightning, so it's 3-1.
I'm still pretty optimistic at this point. 3-1 isn't bad. But when the Sabres can't muster an inch of offence, and the Lightning score right after Sabres PP chances, I pretty much gave up.
1. Giveaways: Buffalo gave away the puck 18 times. EIGHTEEN! Compare that to Lightning's 7 giveaways.
2. Vanek was way off his game. He didn't register a shot until his deflection, which led to the 2nd Sabres goal. He ended up with two shots for the game, -2, and 4 giveaways. His only real redeeming moment was the save on net when Miller was way out of position.
3. Ales Kotalik led the way with 8 shots. He was one of the few Sabres who took shots early and often, and got them through.
4. Faceoffs were much improved; Gaustad and Mair were both well above 50%. Clark Macarthur was at the bottom, winning just 38% of his draws. At one point, Roy was only 3 for 11 on the draw, but he ended up 10 for 21 (48%) for the game.
5. Stamkos scores his first NHL goal ever, which was the first goal of the game, on the PP. He ended up tallying 2 goals, 1 assist, with a +4 and getting 1st star.
No seriously Sabres, you seriously have to do this. I'm not lying.
I understand Ruff's whole offensive strategy where the defence pinches in more to get more offensive pressure, but they'll also give up chances, so the team will depend on good goaltending. This style of play came out of the Hasek years. I talked about this in my last post, but I'll talk about it more here.
The problem is that it's not working. I'm not saying to go back to a defensive style of play where you always leave on d-men back and they'll never go deep into the offensive zone. The two major problems:
1. There has been zero production with this style of play. It's not like d-men pinching in has sparked offence or that the Sabres have been scoring so much.
2. I'd wager that 60% of the goals scored against the Sabres are on quick, odd-man (or even even-numbered) rushes, whether it's a bad giveaway or the puck coming over the blue-line and our defence gets caught deep in the other zone.
The way to solve this is to either start working on offence so that there can be sustained pressure in the other team's zone. The Sabre offence has slowly weakened over the last couple weeks (since the last regulation win, which was two weeks ago) to the point of collapse in the past two games. Be smarter when entering the zone, especially if d-men are getting in on the play.
The other solution is to simply not let the defence pinch when the top line (or top two lines) are out for the other team. Like in Ottawa, the d-men should NOT have let themselves get caught out of position at all costs when Heatley-Spezza-Alfredsson were out. Same with tonight's line of St Louis-Lecavalier-Prospal, and maybe even with Stamkos since he was playing so well tonight.
The other major thing is to get shots on net. Kotalik has the right idea. Harry Neal is right; when you get a shot on net, good things happen. (Example: Vanek's deflection on Sekera's shot tonight.) Take a shot, even if it's not the best shot on earth. There were nine missed shots in tonight's game. Make the goalie make the save, even if it's an easy one. The Sabres have been going up against teams with relatively weak goalies (two back-ups, although apparently Gerber is now going to be back-up to Auld???).
The Sabres strength of play has been declining for well over a week now -- it's definitely not something that just popped up in the past two games, although it was most evident against Ottawa and Tampa Bay. Again, the last time the Sabres really played a full three periods of play was against Vancouver, where they won 5-2.
C'mon Buffalo! Get back on track!