The Buffalo Sabres failed to grab two more points before the end of 2018 in a 3-1 loss to the New York Islanders. It’s their second consecutive loss on home ice.
The Sabres did find a glimmer of hope about halfway through the third period on a power-play goal from Kyle Okposo. Okposo potted his sixth goal of the season in one of his patented wrist shots from the right face-off circle. His first point in 14 games and first goal in 21 cut the Islanders lead to 2-1.
Buffalo continued to push after Okposo’s goal, dominating on the shot clock and offensive-zone possession. Former Sabre Robin Lehner stood tall in net, however, stopping 39 of 40 shots and continuing his hot play of late.
Ryan Pulock scored on the Sabres empty net rendering the game out of reach for Buffalo, but the real dagger came in the early portions of the third period.
On a seemingly harmless wrist shot from a sizeable distance out, Brock Nelson notched his 13th goal of the season giving the Isles a 2-0 lead. The puck hit off Carter Hutton’s glove and fell behind him into the net – an unfortunate and crushing sequence of events.
Despite the soft goal Hutton played relatively well and matched Lehner’s performance for a solid goaltender duo up until that point. His best save came in the first period on a Josh Bailey shot. With a wide-open net to be shot at, Hutton made a desperate stick save on the ice, keeping the game scoreless at that point.
The first period was actually a well-played one for the Sabres. Their 2:32 offensive zone time to New York’s 1:41 speaks to this. A number of Sabres stood out, especially Tage Thompson who had numerous scoring chances but could not finish on any.
One Sabre who could not make an impact was captain, Jack Eichel. A game-time decision before the game, Eichel did end up playing, but for only four shifts. Jack’s absence caused a shuffle in the lines and a great difficulty for the rest of the forwards in generating much creativity offensively.
The Islanders had themselves a second period with Buffalo’s star out of the game. Nick Leddy was credited with their first goal 2:59 into the period and momentum continued to build after that.
The offensive-zone metrics were essentially flipped in the second period. After two periods the Isles had 5:58 to the Sabres’ 3:54. Two power-plays for New York helped keep momentum in their favor.
The story of the game once again came down to a poor performance in the second period. The Sabres have failed of late to put a full 60 minutes together. A lot of the blame can be put on the lack of secondary scoring.
With the Sabres being snakebitten we may see more moves to generate offense. The recall of C.J. Smith for tonight’s game is just one example.
The Sabres close out 2018 with a record of 21-13-6, sitting in third place in the Atlantic Division. They’ll look to get back on the winning foot in the new year as they take on the Florida Panthers on January 3rd. It’ll be an end to a three-game homestand and puck drop is slated for 7 p.m.