Looking at the score, you might think the positives are hard to come by in a game like this. And you would be right, to an extent. Buffalo just dug themselves too deep a hole to come back from. But once they got down, they responded with better hockey for the final two periods, albeit not play that is going to result in winning hockey too often.
The biggest key to tonight’s loss was Robin Lehner. Simply put, he just didn’t have it. He had been lights out in his previous five starts and that play didn’t carry over. It’s something that’s going to happen, he just has to put it behind him and not bring it out with him in his next start.
Let’s go through the goals that Lehner gave up. On the first of the game, it was an awful turnover from Rasmus Ristolainen that let Florida keep the puck in the zone. It got pushed over to Reilly Smith who launched a bullet from the right circle. It beat Lehner short side up high, one he probably would like back.
The second goal was a harmless shot from Brian Campbell. The Buffalo D was out of position and let him walk up ice with the puck. He put a wrister on net that Lehner seemed to have lined up, but as it crossed the scrum in front, Ristolainen got a stick on it and deflected it past his own goalie. Not all Lehner’s fault.
Neither was the third Panther goal. Florida dumped the puck in the zone and it was a complete defensive breakdown on the back check. Jussi Jokinen got fed cross ice right in front of Lehner who didn’t have a shot at the save.
The last one on Lehner came just seconds into the 2nd period when Alex Petrovic slapped a loose puck off the Panthers faceoff win in the upper short corner past Lehner. Not Robin’s finest moment, but there was a bit of a screen in front of him. That being said, when Lehner went to the bench in favor of Chad Johnson, he was head up, still visibly in the game for his teammates. That was one of the biggest keys in making me think he will be able to brush this one off. Bad games happen.
Buffalo tried to pick up Lehner with a few goals of their own. Ristolainen fired a shot on the power play, but it deflected wide of the net. Fortunately for Buffalo, it went right to Sam Reinhart who put it past Roberto Luongo to get on the board. Sam has been huge in front of the net on the Sabres man-up all year long.
Buffalo had another great power play right after with great movement and crisp passing. A little tic-tac-toe from Eichel to O’Reilly to Reinhart was one of the prettiest plays of the night to put Buffalo within two. Momentum was building and Daniel Catenacci almost lit the house up with a third straight goal, but the rookie’s rebound attempt went just over the goal right after Reinhart’s second.
The big difference in the power play later in the game was the group that was out there. The PP1 unit is really, really good. Could probably be put up there with some of the best in the league. But there is absolutely nobody on the PP2 line that should strike fear into an opposing team besides Evander Kane. Kane was the one taking the penalties tonight so when he was out there was nothing happening from the second power play line. The Sabres don’t have the depth they need to compete with deeper squads.
If there was one non-scoring play that deserves some recognition, it came halfway through the second period. Ryan O’Reilly was a man possessed in the offensive zone, maintaining possession of the puck, weaving in and out of Panthers, and eventually drawing a hooking call on Jaromir Jagr to give the Sabres a man-up opportunity. It also evolved into round two of Evander Kane and Alex Petrovic fighting. It was nice to see Kane keep up the intensity with a late goal and many exciting bouts with Petrovic.
The skating was not up to par with what we’ve seen the last couple games. The back check was pretty poor all game long. The fore check was very inconsistent, and the Sabres were unable to sustain pressure throughout the game. It wasn’t a good game, but there were certainly positives to draw from it. As a young team not currently in a position to compete, they have to continue to improve and get better game by game. They get that opportunity Thursday night in Philadelphia.