Anyone hoping that the Buffalo Sabres would be their relief after the Bills (football) mess probably turned off Thursday’s game after two periods. The second major sports team in this small city was as bad the other. Despite all of the noted changes to the roster, the Sabres dropped their home opener to the Boston Bruins without a goal. After being the worst goal scoring team in the NHL, losing 4-0 is not a good start. Though if you are being an optimist, the Bruins were shutout the night before.
Let’s not beat around the bush: the Sabres’ performance sucked. There were still some of the bad habits from last season and it hurt them against a better team. That game, however, was the first and not the 20th after a rough fall. New, better players does not necessarily correlate to instant success. Through games and practice, they are learning each others tendencies as the top trio in Boston had to do.
Tonight, the Sabres continue their home stand against the New York Rangers. They should not be taken lightly but they are not the Boston Bruins. In fact, I do not even think they are Calgary or Florida at this point. Some may disagree, but the Rangers are heading towards a rebuild. If Buffalo can clean up their game and create regular chances, this could start them in the right direction. Or fans will leave during the 2nd period again.
Three Things to Watch
In reality, the forward line production on the ice was pretty darn week. Coach Phil Housley altered them for the third period as the fourth grouping was the only one creating offense and transitioning (Editor’s Note: 4th Line = Best Line!). As that was a telling sign of how the day was going, he made the switch. Connor Sheary looked solid with new captain, Jack Eichel, and Sam Reinhart after the duo starting the game with Jeff Skinner. The other two lines were “meh.”
But concluding these lines cannot work after one regular season game may not be valid. As the Sabres are still in an experimental phase with new players, they may continue with lines from the opener. If Housley liked any of what he saw in the third period, he may just go with those combinations. I imagine the fourth line with be the same but the top 9 could be the same or entirely different.
Pace and possession
If you are basing the Sabres puck possession on their Corsi and Fenwick numbers, they would look pretty good. But if you believed this was a positive, you probably did not watch the last game. The transition game for over two periods was sloppy, as passes went to no one and were not timed. Various beat reporters on Twitter posted how these issues were addressed in practice yesterday. It included plenty of expletives from the sounds of it as rehearsal did not go as planned.
There are definitely some grumpy players today. A few expletives shouted, some sticks being slammed. Housley is drilling instructions to them. Given how he felt last night it makes sense.
— Joe Yerdon (@JoeYerdon) October 5, 2018
Whether it be the coaches or players, there was obvious dissatisfaction with execution. Puck possession and game flow must not only be dictated by the top players but the coaching staff. Can Housley’s crew right the ship of being outplayed or will they continue to make it easy for the opponent? Saturday night is not a bad way to turn the page.
Again, Tage Thompson
Tage Thompson’s first regular season game left more to be desired from the young man. At best, there were flashes of his talent but he was caught behind the play for much of the contest. His speed is not bad by any means but his stride seemed to lag during the change of possession. Even as a big man, he does not need to hit everything that moves but he could use his natural gifts to protect and battle for pucks. Otherwise Thompson continues to look out of place and the coaches will find someone more effective.
Time in Rochester would not hurt him, especially as he garnered the least amount of ice on Thursday. The right wing is not old enough to drink a beer yet so the need to continue his development is not unusual. But he can deter that sentiment by showing better habits tonight.
3-1 Sabres: puck possession and passing show signs of improvement. Better execution against a team with less talent results in a bounce back performance.