Buffalo Sabres Week 13: Halfway to Eichel

Keep your eye's on the prize! - Photo via www.usatoday.com

Keep your eye’s on the prize! – Photo via http://www.usatoday.com

Week 13 was another tough one for the Sabres. Injuries have finally caught up with a Buffalo team that has seen its key players remain fairly healthy until just recently. As we sit perched on the precipice of the second half of the season, we find the blue and gold back in 27th place – slotted comfortably in the third draft spot if the season were to end today. Carolina was won four of their last ten, and is gaining ground on us quickly, and the race to the bottom comes to a head on the Atlantic coast this week when these two less-than-powerhouse teams will face off.

We know the feeling, Pat.  Photo from deadspin.com

We know the feeling, Pat. Photo from deadspin.com

Any hope for momentum from the comeback win against the Islanders on 12/27 dissipated quickly in the week’s opener against the Ottawa Senators. The Sabres allowed 16 shots on net in the first period, but Enroth played his Enrothiest, and it took 18:24 for the Sens’ Bobby Ryan to solve the young goaltender. Buffalo came out swinging in the second, and Mark Pysyk nabbed his first goal of the season at just 1:53. Before the halfway point of the period, all-star Zemgus Girgensons add to his team-leading goal count, scoring his 11th. From there on out, it was all Ottawa. Bobby Ryan scored to end the second period, and scored again to open the third, completing his hat-trick. Former Sabre Clark McCarthur also scored, and Colin Greening would grab his first of the season on the empty net. The Sabres mustered only two shots in the third, and head coach Ted Nolan was not impressed with the effort. “We didn’t finish any hits. I don’t know if we got any hits at all. We didn’t play physical. We didn’t have too much energy. It’s that time of season when our team is gutting through some stuff. We’re not playing 100 percent right now.”

Tampa's youth was key in the NYE victory.  Photo from miamiherald.com

Tampa’s youth was key in the NYE victory. Photo from miamiherald.com

Wednesday night the Sabres hosted the Tampa Bay Lightning in another lopsided romp. Buffalo held the Lightning to just 25 shots – a pittance compared to the hailstorm they have frequently allowed this season. The high-powered Lightning offense does not need many shots though, and managed to score five goals, leaving Enroth with a .800 GAA – one of his worst performances of the season. It was the young Lightning players that did the most damage against Buffalo, with rookie Ondrej Palat and second-year player Nikita Kucherov combining for seven points. Rookie goaltender Andrei Vasilevskiy allowed only one goal from Buffalo – a power play goal in the first period scored by team points leader Tyler Ennis in the first. Though Vasilevskiy was barely tested, facing 11 shots and only one shot in the third period. Nolan seemed concerned for the Rochester call-ups, even going as far as to say they looked frightened when facing the speed and skill of such an elite NHL team.

Luongo secures his 68th career shutout.  Photo from Miami Herald.

Luongo secures his 68th career shutout. Photo from Miami Herald.

Friday was probably Buffalo’s best chance to get a win this week, but the Sabres let that one slip by, with Florida goaltender Roberto Luongo securing his third consecutive shutout at the First Niagara Center. Brad Boyes, who wore the blue and gold for a cup of coffee, opened the scoring at 3:29 in the first period. At 11:51 of the same frame, Nick Bjugstad scored on the power play, with a secondary assist from rookie standout Aaron Eckblad. The Sabres managed to fire 30 pucks on Luongo – a feat that they had not reached in almost 10 games. Backup Michal Neuvirth played a solid game in net, making several key saves in the first to keep the game relatively close, but the suffering Sabres couldn’t beat Luongo to break his FNC shutout streak.

Saturday, the Sabres took their beleaguered show on the road to the bright lights of Madison Square Garden for this season’s first game against the NY Rangers.

Neuvirth didn't last the first period.  The slaughter was fast and bloody.  Photo from mercedsunstar.com

Neuvirth didn’t last the first period. The slaughter was fast and bloody. Photo from mercedsunstar.com

Despite a strong start to the game, Buffalo quickly got into penalty trouble and it set the tone for the remainder of the game. At 8:32, Andrej Meszaros took a tripping penalty, and the Rangers capitalized just 14 seconds later. The Sabres took a bench penalty immediately following the goal, which resulted in another power play goal for NY. 90 seconds later, Buffalo’s McCormick took a third consecutive penalty, and the Rangers power play cashed in again. Barely another minute passed before the Rangers would score again – four goals in less than four minutes, and Neuvirth’s night had come to an end.

Drew Stafford scored his sixth goal of the season, but NY scored two more before the end of the second period. The 6-1 loss was the Sabres’ eighth loss in nine games, with the team allowing four goals or more in all but one of those losses.

It’s been a dismal downswing for Buffalo, but the entire city owes a debt of gratitude to a tiny Eastern European country. Latvia has banded together as a nation and voted their frozen little fannies off, ensuring that their national hero, Buffalo’s Zemgus Girgensons, would be in the starting line-up for the upcoming All-Star game. Zee will be joined by five Chicago Blackhawks, who were the remaining winners of the fan-voting fantasy frenzy. The NHL should also offer a nod toward Latvia, who is largely responsible for the 7,000% increase in fan voting for countries outside of the US and Canada. A few years have passed since the NHL kicked off its season in Europe, but perhaps it is time they revisit the idea.

Jack Eichel, come on down! Photo from flickr.com.

Jack Eichel, come on down! Photo from flickr.com.

The Sabres start their week on Tuesday with a game against the unpredictable New Jersey Devils. By all rights, the Devils should be closer to the bottom of the league – Jersey is home to several players who could be grandfathers [sic] to some Sabres, but somehow the Devils have put together a slightly-better-than-mediocre season. Thursday, Buffalo heads to Raleigh, North Carolina to face off against the Hurricanes. This game is a four-pointer, and a ‘Canes win would bring Buffalo just one point out of the coveted ‘Eichel spot’ on the draft board. The Sabres close the week on Friday night with a trip to Tampa. Buffalo has scored 72 goals this season. Tampa’s top 5 scorers have scored 76. That’s pretty much the tale of the tape for this game. It doesn’t look hopeful for Buffalo as we round the bend into the second half of the season. Grab a six-pack and hunker down, Buffalo. 13 more weeks ‘till McEichel.

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