Accountability and take charge mindset in short supply
Two plays aptly frame the horror show Sabres fans have had to endure this past week at KeyBank Center, as the team has dropped the first four of its games in a five-game homestand. This, all following a successful road trip swing through Western Canada where the Sabres collectively played their best hockey in six years and had fans and pundits asking why can’t these guys play like that all the time.
This past Saturday, it was Jake Allen and the St. Louis Blues dishing out a 1-0 shutout to the Sabres. After 55 listless minutes of play and the team giving out a goal in the middle of the third period, the Sabres finally came alive late in the game, thanks to a power play opportunity and the pulling of the goaltender, providing a two-skater advantage.
The Sabres swarmed the net and kept continuous pressure on the Blues. There was a sense that this would be the opportunity to send this one into overtime.
And then it happened. A goal mouth pass across to Sabres forward Sam Reinhart, and nothing but an open net to shoot at. He shot, and the puck went wide and safely behind the net. This, all coming with about 30 seconds to go.
“I got a lot on it. Tough way to go. I got to find a way to put that into the net,” said Reinhart. He snapped at another reporter who approached him after the initial scrum, saying he didn’t want to go over the play again. “Whoever’s going to get that bounce. It’s one of those games that whoever gets that bounce. We passed way too many opportunities to get the pucks on net,” said Coach Phil Housley, dismissing any notion that Reinhart’s whiff was that cost the opportunity to win the game. “If you asked him, he’d want to have that one back,” said Housley about that play.
Three nights later, it was the Anaheim Ducks and their familiar face Ryan Miller between the pipes. The Sabres actually led for stretches of this game, but then gave up the game-winning goal to Anaheim. Goal scored by? … Ryan O’Reilly.
Well, that’s not what the stat sheet says. The credit for the goal was given to the Duck’s Corey Perry, the last player to touch the puck. But it was O’Reilly, making the frantic attempt in front of the net to clear the puck to safety, who instead shot it at goaltender Robin Lehner, and a small redirection got across the goal line. Just like that, the Ducks had a 3-2 lead. “It’s a stupid play by me. I’ve got to go to the corner. It’s frustrating. It sucks. I feel bad,” said O’Reilly, owning up to his poor playmaking in the heat of the moment and taking the blame.
O’Reilly had a make up moment. His laser off the point in the dying seconds of regulation tied the score at three, sending this one into overtime and giving those Sabres fans who stuck it out a chance for the big finish.
Could this game actually get to a shootout? Sabres fans haven’t seen much of goaltender Robin Lehner in these situations since his forgettable string of shootout disasters last season. But this game would not make it this far. Anaheim played a brilliant puck possession game, tiring out the three Sabres players on the ice to the point of near exhaustion while cycling in fresh legs over and over again. Adam Henrique put the puck up high over Lehner’s right shoulder 1:36 into overtime, giving the Ducks and Ryan Miller the win. “The two points were there. It was tough not to get them,” said O’Reilly.
“Lackluster execution. There’s an opportunity to make a few plays and we’re failing to make them. That’s the tale of this season,” added Jack Eichel, who was on the ice for Anaheim’s overtime winning goal. “I don’t know what happened there tonight. Maybe we got to gap that a little better on that line change. It’s something we have to look at and we’ll be ready to go Thursday.” Housley repeated the word “execution” when describing his team’s overtime efforts.
With a 14-30-9 record following Tuesday night, the team is mired in the same standings neighborhood as those infamous “tank” teams of 2014 and 2015. With 120 goals, they are dead last in the NHL. Evander Kane, who is expected to garner significant attention at the trade deadline and is not expected to be back next season, has been nearly invisible these past two months.
The team is home Thursday night against the New York Islanders, still chasing that elusive 1000th home win in team franchise history. For those in search of tickets, plenty are available on secondary market sites for $6 plus service charge.
With no NHL participation in this year’s Winter Olympic Games in South Korea, Team USA will have a much different look, their roster filled with elite collegiate players. And one important veteran. Former Sabres forward Brian Gionta, now “semi retired” with the Rochester Americans, will be the team’s captain in Pyongcheang. At 38 year’s of age, Gionta played for Team USA, then filled with NHL stars, at the 2006 Olympics.
Team USA opens their schedule against Slovenia next Wednesday.