Sabres Week 9: How Surprisingly Unsurprising.

If there can be anything said about the Sabres’ week 9 performance, it is that it was a return to normalcy – if normalcy is defined by the first two months of the 2014-2015 season. There was a brief scare when the Sabres’ opened the week again against division leaders, the Tampa Bay Lightning, but we’d see some familiar shortcomings in the next two games that reassured Sabres fans that the tank is being embraced, whether or not the players got the memo.

Despite Nabokov's acrobatics, the Lightning were no match for the Z-Train. Photo from nhl.com

Despite Nabokov’s acrobatics, the Lightning were no match for the Z-Train. Photo from nhl.com

Tuesday night, the Sabres hosted the Lightning for the first half of a home-at-home series – their second consecutive set against a division leader. While many looked at the December schedule and wrote these two series off as sure losses, the Sabres took two from the Canadiens and were set to do the same against Tampa. Sabres OUTSHOT the Lightning 7-2 in the first, as the teams played through two scoreless periods. The Lightning’s Ondrej Palat scored at 9:52 of the third, seeming to set the world right. With time ticking away, All-Star Voting leader Zemgus Girgensons tied the game at 16:06, and from then on, it was the Jhonas Enroth show. After the Sabres goal, the Lightning maintained offensive zone possession for much of the rest of the game, and Enroth was able to shut down the high-powered, league leading offense. Neither team scored in overtime, and Enroth made both saves in the shootout. Shootout goals by Cody Hodgson and Tyler Ennis would seal the victory for Buffalo, much to the dismay of What’s Going On In Buffalo’s Craig Wheeler, as heard on the 716SportsPodcast.

The Lightning lit us up like a Christmas tree. Photo from yahoo.com

The Lightning lit us up like a Christmas tree. Photo from yahoo.com

Thursday, the Sabres travelled to Tampa and it appeared that the same sun that provides Superman his powers drained the surging Sabres of theirs. Defenseman Radko Gudas (great hockey name) opened the scoring at 2:33 of the first, and from then on, the onslaught was fairly relentless. Tampa scored three goals in the second, outshooting the Sabres 14-3. They finished off the scoring with a late power play goal, following several game misconduct penalties handed to both teams. All in all, the Lightning sent 35 shots at standout goalie Jhonas Enroth, while the Sabres retorted with only 13. Head Coach Ted Nolan indicated that the team seemed distracted. “We just lost track of what we have to do in order to be successful in some games. We stopped hitting, we stopped skating, just doing a lot of pirouettes in center ice and it got away from us in the second period.”

Luongo would make the save here, but the Sabres would break his shutout streak of over 10 periods. Photo from miamiherald.com

Luongo would make the save here, but the Sabres would break his shutout streak of over 10 periods. Photo from miamiherald.com

Saturday night, the Sabres were sent down the highway to Sunrise, FL for a tilt against the only-slightly-better Florida Panthers. The game was attended by just under 8,600 people, and the attendees seemed to be largely Sabres fans, which makes this annual trip almost like a preseason home game for the Blue and Gold. The game was quite a bit closer than the last, and while the Sabres never lead in the game, they were able to keep the game close for its entirety. Former Sabre Brad Boyes scored at 13:05 of the first, adding some flavor to what was otherwise a fairly boring period. Things heated up in the second when Drew Stafford scored his fifth of the year, tying the game at one and breaking All-Star Goalie Roberto Luongo’s 214:21 minute shutout streak. Less than two minutes later, the Panthers regained the lead, and Buffalo’s Brian Gionta knotted the game at two before the period’s end. The third period was exciting, with both teams getting chances. Ultimately, the Panthers would score with less than 20 seconds left in the game, sending the Sabres home winless on the peninsula.

The week marked the return of Drew Stafford and Michal Neuvirth; while the Sabres were rolling despite these key injuries, the players did well once they settled in. Special teams continue to be a weakness for the team, and the power play has been a point of focus at practices recently. It seems that Tyler Myers is no longer the focus of trade talks around the league, and that last year’s trade deadline acquisition, winger Christ Stewart is the new hot commodity. This story could develop into an actual trade sometime this week – it will be interesting to see what the Sabres would get in return. The two teams named most in the rumors are Boston and Ottawa, but Boston seems to be struggling on defense right now, and so we could see a package of players head out.

Is Stewart on the way out?  Photo from NHL.com

Is Stewart on the way out? Photo from NHL.com

This week, the Sabres host the Stanley Cup champion Los Angeles Kings, and this year’s Cinderella story, the Calgary Flames, before Panthers come to try their luck here in snow-country. The Sabres played well against the Kings on their trip out west, and LA seems to be experiencing a lull right now, sitting fifth in their division. Buffalo has had some luck against the West Coast teams, but I don’t think they get one here against Jonathan Quick. The Flames, however, are a different story. The standings seem to be skewed, as Calgary sits two spots above the Kings, holding third place in the Pacific. I think the Flames are beatable, though; especially if the Sabres are clicking the way they have been in the last fifteen games or so. Finally, the Sabres close out the week seeking revenge for a close loss. The Panthers are obviously beatable, but the team has not taken the Sabres lightly, and rookie standout Aaron Ekblad has put up some great numbers against Buffalo this year. Saturday’s bout will be a tough one, and I think the Sabres lose again to the Panthers.

We’re expected to get some perfect Buffalo winter weather this week. Before heading out to the game, try to hit a skate at the Rotary Rink or the new Canalside skating area! The cobblestone district has some great places, including newly opened Ballyhoo and (716). So grab a drink and a stool, and support some local establishments while we’re supporting our sports teams.

How about a pre-game skate!  Photo from wyrk.com

How about a pre-game skate! Photo from wyrk.com

Advertisements

Tags: ,

No comments yet.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: