I rushed home from work to catch today’s Sabres game. How often are the Sabres going to start their season in Finland? Plus, OPENING DAY!!! As I’m sure everyone knows already, the Sabres won their opening contest 4-1. However, as one of my counterparts on this site stated; “Sabres dominate for 60 minutes”, I will strongly disagree. Like every game, there’s numerous pros and cons. This effort was good, but not in the category of dominating.
The first period opened up just the way Sabres wanted it to, 2 very quick strikes from Vanek and Leino. As I watched the first period, I saw that this was a different hockey team compared to what we saw last year. As Mike Robitaille reported, Buffalo dictated the first 2 periods. The forwards crashed the front of the net, and didn’t play like they were scared of a little contact. Plus, the defense joined the rush, very similar to the Sabres teams from 05-06, and 06-07. I saw in the first that the Sabres defense was standing up the Duck forwards at the Sabres blue line. I barely heard the names Perry, Getzlaf and Ryan, the top line for the Ducks. The defense kept the forwards for the Ducks quiet. Also, the penalty kill looked fantastic for the whole game. Buffalo took a page out of Ehrhoff’s book and whenever they touched the puck, it was thrown down the ice with authority on the penalty kill. The defense also demonstrated their ability to get the puck out from the slot quickly. Buffalo seemed to return to the form of getting the puck away from Ryan Miller and away from the Duck forwards, then worry about getting out of the zone. It was very effective for them, and kept the Ducks shots coming from the perimeter. In their own end, Buffalo played tight, keeping shooting lanes clear, and allowing Miller to see shots coming in as well as forcing the Ducks to make quick decisions, not always the best ones.
However, the best thing the Sabres did was clear their end quickly and effectively. I no longer saw the Sabres getting the puck, retreating to behind their cage, waiting a few minutes, and setting up a play once their opponents made a change. Once Buffalo obtained possession of the puck, they were on the attack almost immediately. 1-2 passes, and they were out of their own end and heading towards the Duck’s zone. They continued to do this for the majority of the game. As Rob Ray said during the game “That 1st pass out of the zone is important”, and he’s absolutely right. Buffalo made very smart decisions coming out of their end.
Robyn Regher deserves to be mentioned quickly for his stand out penalty in the first period. Yes, penalty. The Ducks were crashing the net and Regher very quickly cleared crease by checking the Duck forward. The message sent to the Ducks, and the NHL, was crystal clear; “Come close to this crease, be prepared to get hit”. This was an excellent penalty to take, and I hope Buffalo continues to do this. Plus, I noticed diminutive Gerbe go after Duck forward Bobby Ryan after he took a shot at Miller after the whistle had gone as well as other Buffalo players standing up for each other when there was pushing and shoving after play had stopped. Again, Buffalo is starting to send the message “Mess with one, Mess with all.”
After falling asleep for 5 minutes in the 2nd period, Buffalo responded quickly with strikes from Pominville and Vanek, for his 2nd of the game, making it 4-1. Both forwards showed the value of throwing the puck at the net, especially with Pominville’s goal. Buffalo wasn’t necessarily trying to set up the pretty play today, they were going to score, and took great shots in the first 2 periods to show that. Plus, there was always someone in front of Hiller in the Ducks goal. The forwards were circling, and continued moving to cause trouble for the Ducks.
At this point in the game, I’m more than excited. This Sabres team looked like a completely different team than the one that gave the Flyers a first round series win on a silver platter in the playoffs last season.
Then Buffalo returned to form.
Like I said at the start of this article, there were cons in this game. Well, they came in the third.
Again, as a peer on this site pointed out, “Sabres dominate for 60 minutes” and then points out that Buffalo had ZERO, yeah that’s right ZERO shots in the 3rd period. Now, isn’t that a little bit contradictory? Let’s change that 60 minutes to 40 minutes, and you’ll have a summary of this game.
Buffalo completely backed off in the 3rd period, and in this NHL, that is unacceptable. Buffalo needs to continue to attack their opponents, regardless of what the score is. For those of you who have forgotten a game on March 23, 2007, Toronto once had a 4-1 lead on the Sabres with 16 minutes to go in the game. In less than 10 minutes, Buffalo had a 5-4 lead and went on to win. Just like that, a 3 goal lead can be gone. Keep that in mind. The Ducks won the 3rd period. Buffalo needed to come out and continue to play their game. Instead, the Ducks circled like vultures, but were unable to get anything to eat. Miller blanked the Ducks in the 3rd, and ended up with 29 saves on the day.
If Buffalo continues to get leads on their opponents and then back off with a “comfortable” lead, they will run into trouble. I understand trying to save energy for tomorrows game against the Kings, but don’t change your game style. A suggestion for future games, DON’T. BACK. OFF. Other teams will not do this for you. Do not do it for them. No lead is safe in hockey.
The 3 bright spots of the 3rd period
The 5 on 3 penalty kill was simply fantastic.
Although the Ducks controlled the period, their shots were not high quality shots
Two words... Ryan. Miller.
All in all, this was a good effort from Buffalo, not great. It was far from dominating effort, but Buffalo did dictate the game except for the 3rd period. In the end, Buffalo seemed to be able to clear their own end much more effectively than last season, which will result in better scoring chances, and more goals. The offense also went to the front of the net, and continued moving while on the attack to cause problems for the Ducks. Plus, and it feels weird saying this, Buffalo’s special teams were superb.
There is work still to be done in Buffalo. I hope to see a full 60 minute effort from the Sabres in future games this season. However all in all, the positive aspects of this game far outweigh the negative ones. This team has improve immensely from last season and demonstrated it this afternoon. Expect to see more of this style of play as the season moves on.