Sabres-Thrashers: Same Old Story as Buffalo Falls 3-2 to Atlanta in OT

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Sabres-Thrashers:  Same Old Story as Buffalo Falls 3-2 to Atlanta in OT

The Sabres lost to the Atlanta Thrashers Wednesday night, 3-2, in an overtime battle. It was a defeat which, barring a complete collapse by two of the three teams ahead of them, relegates the Sabres to the list of non-Playoff teams for the second straight year.

The Sabres lost this game in pretty much the same way they have lost all too many games already this year. The key culprits:

  1. A lack of ability to finish scoring plays. The Sabres have generated many chances; they just have not done a good job of converting those chances to goals. Last night, Roy, Pominville, and Spacek missed the most noticeable opportunities. Vanek has missed his share this year, too, and Stafford missed an open-netter earlier in the year from about two feet out.
  2. A dearth of physicality. Atlanta, like many teams with speed, cycled the puck at will in the Sabre end last night. The way to stop the cycle is for a defenseman or forward to put a body on the puck carrier, but the Sabres (and especially their undersized defense) either can't or won't play the body.
  3. None of the necessary desire or intensity required to win battles on the boards. How many times last night did we see one or two Sabres battling along the boards with one or two Thrashers, only to have a Thrasher skate away with the puck? For whatever reason, the Sabres do not win the one-on-one battles.
  4. The soft goal. Ryan Miller has, overall, played very well this year. His stats bear witness, as he's recorded the lowest goals-against average and highest save percentage of his career. But that said, he has let in a number of head-shakingly "soft" goals. Zack Bogosian's first goal last night wasn't a terrible whiff, but Miller appeared to misjudge it.
  5. The missing spark. The Sabres players want to win, but they just don't seem as quick to the puck as they should be. Perhaps it is lack of desire, but more likely, it's a sign of indecision. If a player doesn't know his linemates, know where he is supposed to go, and know what he is supposed to do, his indecision will slow his reaction. Lindy Ruff has pushed all the buttons—days off, hard practices, calling his players out in public—but for whatever reason, this team seems to be neither energized nor focused.

 

By losing to the Thrashers, the Sabres ended up winless in four games against one of the NHL's weaker teams. And against Ottawa, another non-Playoff team, the Sabres won only one of six games. Had they merely played .500 hockey against those two, they would be postseason-bound.
This year, Buffalo is (at best) marginal. They have a few gifted players (Miller and Vanek) and several solid role players (Connolly, Roy, Pominville, and Stafford). But they don't have is any defensemen with either offensive prowess or defensive mean streaks.
The most telling thing about the club, though, is that they do not have enough leaders. The roster is lacking in both players who can take the team on their back in the dry spells and players with the respect and authority to demand a response in the locker room.

Team owner Tom Golisano said he would eat his microphone if the Sabres missed the Playoffs this year.  Most Sabre fans would be much more impressed if he made some changes in the regime in charge of the Sabres day-to-day operations: GM Darcy Regier, managing partner Larry Quinn, and coach Lindy Ruff.
The feeling in Buffalo is that it's time to "change the oil" on both Ruff and Regier, the longest running GM-coach combo in the NHL.
Now, has Ruff forgotten how to coach since leading the Sabres deep into the postseason in 2006 and 2007? Of course not. But the team is clearly not responding to him any more.  
As for Regier, the talent level on the Sabres has been sliding for three years. Players like Chris Drury, Daniel Briere, Marty Biron, J.P. Dumont, Mike Grier, and Jay McKee have been lost and replaced by essentially no one.
Maybe if Ruff had more gas in the tank, he could drive the car faster. Sabres fans can only hope it will be an interesting offseason.
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