The Sabres are having a weird year in some respects with their success against Ottawa countered by their ineptitude against Boston as they went 0-4 against the Bruins this season. Buffalo also has had trouble with the Washington Capitals (0-2-1,) Carolina Hurricanes (0-2-1,) New Jersey Devils (0-2-1) and Vancouver Canucks (0-2-0.) Yet they're 2-0-1 so far against Detroit, went 2-0-1 against the NY Rangers and swept the Edmonton Oilers (2-0-0.)
After last night's win, Buffalo now has a 24-23-10 record good for 58 points.
It's been an up and down ride since the All-Star break. After losing to Montreal in the final game of January, the Sabres have alternated losses and wins beginning with the OT loss vs. the Rangers. In doing so they've caught up to, or surpassed, games played by other teams in the conference but are pretty much in the same place they've been all season--near the bottom of the conference and division.
Regardless of what's transpired over the course of the last two-plus weeks the Sabres seemed to be taking a business-like approach to the next series of games. Word out of the locker room last night after a solid win was that there was no celebration just a get-ready-for-the-next-game approach. "All-in-all we're not satisfied," said Ryan O'Reilly (via WGR550,) "it's just one game. We have to string a bunch together here. Our consistency has been terrible and we're not happy by any means here.
"We have to prove to each other every night that we can be a team that can contend.
Make no mistake, it was a good win for Buffalo last night. They got two points and did so within the division where they're 5-1-0 since blowing a two-goal lead in Toronto back on January 17. Prior to, and including, that Toronto game the Sabres had a 4-9-3 record against the Atlantic. They also took a step in the right direction concerning their second period woes. Granted the final five minutes of the period was hair-raising, but the Sabres controlled the first 15 minutes of the period. For a team that gets crushed on a regular basis in the second period, getting 3/4 of the way there is a good step.
"They were moving, just skating around us," said O'Reilly of that span in the second period where Ottawa had 14 shots on goal in the final 5:52 of the period and took the lead 2-1 just 25 seconds after the barrage began. It's something we've witnessed often where Buffalo is caught in their zone for long periods of time when they're on the long change in the middle stanza. But they managed to regroup.
"We were disappointed with it," continued O'Reilly. "We didn't break. We stuck with it and we knew if we [could] just get out of the period we'd regroup and that's what we did. We came back with a fresh mind-set. It [was] good for us."
That "fresh mind-set" O'Reilly talked about was on display very early in the third period as Matt Moulson got the final tip on a Sam Reinhart shot from in tight that went over Ottawa goalie Craig Anderson and landed near the goal-line. Moulson managed to out duel a Senators defenseman to nick it over the goal line. Jack Eichel, who was at the center of a whirlwind the last couple of days, started the play by using his speed and reach to get the puck to the side of the net.
Eichel admittedly didn't have his best game the previous night vs. the Vancouver Canucks. He fumbled the puck in his own zone late on a penalty kill that the 'Nucks converted on to take the lead. Buffalo lost 4-2. Head coach Dan Bylsma cleared up any controversy concerning how he wanted Eichel to play and the 20 yr. old franchise center did just that by using his speed reach and puck-handling skills all game.
I'm still of the opinion that the main reason the Sabres fell to the Canucks was fatigue. Even on the second goal where Eichel's weak shot was corralled by Vancouver and was in the back of the net seconds later, he and others on the ice looked tired. Buffalo was in the midst of playing five games in seven nights and was on the second game of their second consecutive back-to-back. When a player is tired, he makes mistakes and there were plenty being made throughout that Vancouver game.
O'Reilly also bounced back as he opened the scoring only 24 seconds into the game last night. He was also on the ice for Justin Bailey's game-winning goal and finished with a plus-1 rating, but the real star of the show may have been Robin Lehner.
Lehner faced 41 shots last night and allowed only two goals against while making timely saves all the way to the end when Ottawa was pressing hard with the extra attacker. Although he still has his troubles with rebound control, Lehner has been getting the save when the team needs him to. He didn't have his best game against Vancouver, he was back in net vs. his former team and held the Sens to two goals.
Lehner is 4-0-2 all-time vs. Ottawa. This season he is 3-0-1 and was named one of the game's stars in every one of those games. Overall he has a 1.30 goals-against average against the Sens and a .959 save percentage.
As for Buffalo, thanks to their play against Ottawa, they're still "in the hunt."
--Moulson's goal came 5v5, it was only his third goal at even strength all season. His 12 goals on the season rank him in a tie for fourth on the team with O'Reilly, Reinhart and Brian Gionta.
--Evander Kane missed last night's game with the flu
--Bailey's goal was his second of the season. The speedy winger is beginning to impress on a more consistent basis and his goal last night should help keep him on a line with O'Reilly and Kyle Okposo. He's also a plus-5 in 16 games for Buffalo.
--Defenseman Zach Bogosian returned to the lineup and finished with an even rating in 16:49 of ice-time.
--The Sabres are finished playing the Eastern Conference this month and begin a three game home-stand tomorrow vs. the Colorado Avalanche. They'll have a matinee on Saturday against the St. Louis Blues before welcoming the Chicago Blackhawks to KeyBank Center for a 6 pm start.
--After that the Sabres go on their mandated five-day bye week before travelling to Colorado and Arizona for a back-to-back beginning the 25th. Buffalo finishes the month with a home game against the Nashville Predators on the 28th.