It was all too similar to so many Sabres letdowns in the past. 20 minutes from a victory and a bend but don’t break mentality leads to a breakdown and a loss. Unfortunately, last night’s breakdown ended up being the final domino to fall on the Buffalo Sabres’ season.
Ville Leino opened the scoring and Ryan Miller was great in net, but it wasn’t enough. Buffalo tried to shell up in the third, allowed 16 shots and a pair of goals on their way to a 2-1 loss. The loss, coupled with Washington’s regulation victory sealed Buffalo’s playoff fate, and that was all she wrote.
Not to be a complete downer on the loss, but it played out just as you might expect it to. Buffalo was rather tentative for most of the game, but managed to capitalize on one of their better chances on the Leino goal. However, the Sabres came out for the third just hoping to hang on to the one-goal lead and escape with two points. I understand their losses on the backend, but that third period effort was in-ex-cus-able (go to 30 seconds).
The Sabres had already been outshot 19-16 entering the third period only to be outshot 16-10 in what would turn out to be their most important period of the year. Whether this falls on poor coaching decisions, mental weakness or just the wrong mix of players, the third period was basically a microcosm of the entire year.
With the loss, Saturday’s matinee in Boston becomes next to meaningless. The Bruins will likely continue resting a number of their regulars and the Sabres will likely send some (or most) of their AHL call ups back to Rochester while re-inserting some of their ailing veterans. Also it will mean that Jhonas Enroth will get the honor of the next Sabres backup to play the final game of the season, finally giving Ryan Miller a night off.
As the offseason begins for the Sabres, there will be plenty of necessary questions that will need to be addressed. How the Sabres management chooses to address them is anyone’s guess.
- Ryan Miller took a bold step by responding to the (now fulfilled) guarantee made by Brooks Laich. His game responded as well. Miller turned aside 33 shots and was a big reason the Sabres weren’t simply run out of the building. For those who say Miller doesn’t show up when his team needs him, take this game into consideration.
- Robyn Regehr, despite his plus/minus, has been a sound performer for the Sabres this season. However, he looked mighty bad as Matt Read steamed past him to score the game winner. Surely many fans will assume he was awful all year because of this one play and his stat line.
- Regehr’s partner, Andrej Sekera chose a bad time to regress in his play. That pair had been phenomenal for long stretches recently, Sekera’s handful of ugly nights came during a run of games that ultimately cost Buffalo the season. Sekera was improved this year, but his detractors certainly won’t forget this run of hockey.
- Jody Shelly. Yes, Jody Shelly had three shots on goal and two scoring chances. Thomas Vanek, Derek Roy and Jason Pominville combined for four shots. Vanek’s only appearance on the stat sheet was a missed attempt and one hit. Remember when he was the first half’s MVP?
- T.J. Brennan played some solid hockey earlier in the year. In fact, his play was a prime example of how expendable Grocery Stick Gragnani was. But Brennan was quite average for this most recent recall. I wonder where he fits in the long-term plans with players like Matt MacKenzie, Mark Pysyk and even Brayden McNabb in the pipeline?
- Not counting the addition of Regehr, I think the Sabres missed the boat on adding a true veteran presence – think Marc Recchi with the Bruins last year. I will remain adamant that the Sabres mental toughness is sorely lacking and a true veteran leader up front would probably do wonders for the locker room.
- I’m not very interested in looking at the silver lining of the tremendous run the team just went on. Yes, there were some bright spots. Namely, Miller’s resurgence, Folgino and Ennis coming together and the revelation that Christian Ehrhoff was truly money well spent. But I’m not going to hang my hat on the “well, it was a great run” bandwagon.
- For what it’s worth, Ville Leino’s production when playing on a line with talented forwards wasn’t too horrible. The fact that he was bounced around for much of the year could say a lot about why his numbers were poor. He has talent worth keeping around, he just needs the proper situation to succeed.
- There has to be some correlation with how the Sabres are coached and the ridiculous things that continue to happen. Third periods like last night, the continued use of that useless neutral zone drop pass, yet another too many men penalty, the general lack of that killer instinct to each game. Is it the coaching? Is it the players? I’m not entirely sure, but if this team is truly going to be a winner, that needs to change.