Coming into Thursday’s game Buffalo had won three of four and were feeling good about their recent play. Tampa Bay came in losers of five of their last six. Something had to give and unfortunately for Buffalo this was the game Tampa Bay’s big guns woke up.
The first three minutes of the first Buffalo controlled play in Tampa’s end. Eichel had a really nice dangle 3:47 in and had a nice shot which Vasilevskiy was able to stop. Once Tampa pushed out of their end, it was all Tampa for the rest of the first period. Stamkos scored on a nice pass from Filppula with three Sabres standing in front of net and O’Reilly unable to reach Stamkos on the left. This would be a theme in the first with Tampa Bay using their speed to control the play and Buffalo mostly standing watching them.
Five minutes later at 11:35 in Tyler Johnson got his second of the year, when Alex Killorn carried the puck in to Sabres zone on right side and fed Johnson in the slot. The Sabres had two major miscues on this play with Tyler Ennis not fore-checking back in time to help mark up the Tampa skaters forcing the defense to play lower. Also Reinhart made a rookie mistake of line changing instead of pressing back to help cover Killorn.
With only 1:40 left in the first, Tampa Bay converted a third opportunity on a three on two to increase their lead to three. Kucherov made a nice backhand pass to Naestnikov who fired the shot on Ullmark. With a wave of activity in front the puck rebounded to the left side of Ullmark, with Ristolainen unable to stop Kucherov, who scored jamming the puck in on the left post.
This may have been the worst period Buffalo played all year. Whether it was the three day rest they got or just because Tampa Bay is really good, Buffalo was slow in the first and didn’t play the body. Compared to previous games, Buffalo only had 25 hits against Tampa Bay compared to the Islanders game when they had 44 hits. Ullmark got pulled for Chad Johnson more to shake up the team then because of the three goals which he had little help.
In the second the Sabres played much better with a highlight real goal by Eichel for his fifth of the year after a nice pass from Mike Weber using Coburn as a screen to close it to a two goal deficit. This was by far Eichel’s best game, he made some beautiful plays on offense but perhaps my favorite was a backcheck in 2nd when he chased down a Tampa player and stole the puck to break up a one timer. Buffalo had 21 shots in the 2nd, but only converted on Eichel’s goal.
In the third Buffalo tried to put pressure on but only registered 2 shots on goal. Legwand had a nice chance shorthanded on a breakaway, but was stoned by Vasilevskiy. Buffalo pulled the goalie for the last two and half minutes and had some nice opportunities with Ennis missing a wide open net left on a one timer. Hedman sealed what hope Buffalo had on a long empty net goal from the blueline.
Buffalo returns to action Saturday welcoming former Sabre favorite Ryan Miller and the Canucks to town at 1 p.m.
Jack Eichel- Without a doubt his best game of the year. Between his highlight real goal, six shots resulting in numerous opportunities, and excellent back checking he was excellent. One really nice thing to see was Eichel willing to get physical and defend his teammate after JT Brown hit Larsson pretty hard in the corner. That is the type of leadership and response you like to see from your future franchise cornerstone.
David Legwand- There were not many Sabres who I really thought had a good game, but the grizzled vet had some nice chances and drove play well into Tampa’s zone.
Tyler Ennis- Without a doubt his worst game of the year. Whether he was tired or just in a bad rhythm, his fore-check and skating left a lot to be desired. He major reason for Tampa’s second goal by not getting back to help cover. On offense he missed a few opportunities and lacked his normal zip. He finished the game -3 with a turnover.
Sabres defense- This was a bad game by the entire group all around. During the first they fell back in front of the net and didn’t play the body on any of the Tampa goals. They are young so you expect growing pains, but on the third Tampa goal Ristolainen needed play the body and not allow Kucherov to get a shot. Jake McCabe is the only defenseman who deserves credit, he did a decent job in his own end and continues to make strong plays in the offensive zone.