Finally this season, I was able to get to a Buffalo Sabres game. What's even more incredible is that I talked my girlfriend into going to two games, back to back. I'm not sure she liked me taking notes on my cell phone. SO, here is a recap of two very different games played at HSBC arena this weekend.
New York Islanders, 10/16/2009
This was a great effort by the Buffalo Sabres. The first thing that jumped to mind was that the Sabres defense, again, was not afraid to jump into the rush. This is reminiscent of the Sabres playoff teams. From my vantage point in the nosebleeds, the constant attack of the Sabres offense getting the puck at their own blue line. Then, the outlet pass was made for a 3 on 2 going into the Islanders end. Numerous times did i see the likes of Montador, Lydman, and Myers deep in the offensive end. Plus, the Sabres got the puck into the Islanders end, and kept it there for solid pressure.
The act of shooting first, and asking questions later was prominent as well. Buffalo scored numerous goals, including the Tim Connolly, Jochen Hecht, and Jason Pominville's goals came by Buffalo shooting the puck at the net. In reality, at least two of these goals shouldn't have happened. Again, if you shoot the puck, good things will happen.
The Sabres also showed support for their goaltender Ryan Miller. After getting hit by Jackman, Paul Gaustad stepped up and, well, there's no better way of putting it, pounded Jackman. This finally sent the message to opponents, hitting our goaltender will result in a fight. For years, players have been hitting Miller, and no one was bold enough to put a stop to it. Gaustad put an end to that, by finally backing up his goalie.
However, when in their own end, Buffalo was very sloppy, foreshadowing what was to come Saturday night. Numerous attempts to clear failed. Plus, the Sabres were clumping in their own end as well. Instead of spreading out and trying to keep the pressure on the Islanders, the team just clumped up in front of their net. The Islanders were able to move the puck around fairly freely, and did turn it into positive moments, for them despite losing 6-3.
All in all, a solid effort for the Sabres. Buffalo kept the pressure on the Islanders when they were on the attack. However, more opportunities were given to the Islanders than past teams the Sabres have faced this season. Finally, congratulations to Tyler Myers on his first career NHL goal, and to Jason Pominville, for making the Pominville Population 100 for his career.
Atlanta Thrashers 10/17/2009
I bought tickets for this game figuring that Patrick Lalime would get the start. I was unconcerned, especially due to the fact that the offense of the Sabres had woken up. However, it was a classic effort displayed by the Sabres in front of Lalime; poor.
The first period looked like a normal game with Miller sitting on the bench. Lalime kept them in it for the first period. Buffalo looked absolutely atrocious in their own end. Poor passing, and again, clumping in front of the goal. With 13:13 left in the first period, I turned to my girlfriend and said, "If something doesn't change, Buffalo loses this game". Fortunately, Coach Ruff called a timeout, and Buffalo improved marginally, but not good enough.
The second period wasn't much better. The Sabres kept trying two approaches to get the puck in the net, the long breakaway pass, or the dump and chase strategy. Neither approach worked. Plus, with a full 2 minute 5 on 3 opportunity, no goals for the Sabres were scored. When Buffalo did make it a 2-1 game, Atlanta scored within 20 seconds to make it a 3-1 game again. Atlanta won all the one on one battles as well. The hustle of Buffalo was non-existent.
With a few minutes left, Stafford scored to make it 3-2. The energy of HSBC Arena was back. Everyone was cheering. "Let's Go Buff-a-lo" reverberated throughout the building. Within 15 seconds, it was gone as Afinogenov beat Myers and made it 4-2. The energy was gone, and the crowd was quiet once more. The hopes of Buffalo making a comeback died with the crowd, and Buffalo was handed their first loss in regulation for the 2009-2010 season.
What happened? Numerous things. The offensive attack was lacking, with the exception of the third period. There was sloppy passing and no changes in the attack made by the Sabres, despite failing numerous times to get the puck in deep. Lalime did not have support either. One fan sitting nearby said that Lalime was at fault. Numerous others have stated Lalime is the problem. I respectfully disagree. The Sabres do not seem to come out and play when a backup goalie is in the net. The same thing happened with Conklin, and Thibault. If you want a hockey team to compete, you need your team to come out and play the same every night, despite who's in net.
When the offense is clicking, this is a team to beat. Everyone is contributing on the offense from Vanek to Myers to Kaleta (remember, 10-15 goals this season). However, the inconsistency can be a large concern. With the first road trip starting with games against Florida, Tampa and Jersey, before returning home for a date with the Leaf's, Buffalo needs to rebound quickly from Saturday's effort against the Thrashers.