BUFFALO, N.Y. (WKBW) — It took nearly two months for the blue and gold to do battle with the Pittsburgh Penguins. But Buffalo came up empty once again. The Sabres hung around early, but wound up losing 5-2 Thursday night. The two teams play again Saturday night at KeyBank Center.
Five Observations from Thursday's game:
"It'll be refreshing"
Well, it yielded the same result. The Sabres have gone nearly half of their season without playing two of their divisional opponents: the Pens and the Boston Bruins. And even though the Sabres stayed in it for most of the tilt, that clearly wasn't enough.
Until tonight, Buffalo had only played against three playoff contenders (NYI, PHI, WSH) and two other cellar dwellers (NJ, NYR). Surprise; Two more playoff contenders are in the mix now. But there were some elements of Buffalo's game tonight that still felt refreshing.
Finally, an answer!
Time after time— and neither Ralph Krueger nor his players seem to have any answer for it— the Sabres absolutely crumble after giving up one goal. For their entire road trip, it just seemed to get worse and worse.
Last weekend I wrote about the possibility of burning a timeout after the first goal allowed. The way they had been playing, it’s not like they would’ve needed it later in the game anyway.
Instead, Tage Thompson picked up his first goal of 2021 on a wraparound. He took Tobias Rieder’s place in the lineup and made his presence known in a big way that kept the Sabres in the game.
Grind, Grit, Bite, and Fight?
I’m sure everybody’s grown tired of Ralph Krueger’s favorite buzz words throughout this skid. I certainly have. But for what it’s worth, against a fresh opponent, the Sabres showed some of that.
Colin Miller, in particular, showed that when he stood up for Dylan Cozens. There was no hesitation when he dropped the gloves with Zach Aston-Reese. And he won.
Buffalo nearly doubled Pittsburgh’s hit totals tonight. Several defensemen were mixing it up routinely after the whistle. It wasn’t always pretty, but somehow it looks like this team cares again.
Getting out of their own way
There hasn't been a single line or pairing that has been working consistently for well over a month. The defense has been a rotating door, Jack Eichel is out, and the only ones who can find the net consistently are Sam Reinhart and Victor Olofsson.
But Buffalo quite literally couldn’t get out of their own way. It’s how Brandon Montour got stuck at his own blue line on the Penguins’ first goal. It’s how several breakouts were ruined without a very hard forecheck. To call it sloppy would be an understatement.
Windows of opportunity
Dylan Cozens left Thursday's game after taking that nasty hit from Zach Aston-Reese in the neutral zone. Jack Eichel is apparently out of state for a second opinion on his upper body injury. Now is the time to keep mixing the lines up and see what you've got in some of these guys.
Tage Thompson picked up his first goal of 2020 and wound up with some power play minutes and extra attacker minutes down the stretch. Casey Mittelstadt wound up centering Taylor Hall and Sam Reinhart. It's time to start checking out what the Sabres have, or don't have, in those fringe, taxi-squad type guys.