OPINION: Sabres had no answers for Islanders' superior defense

Buffalo had no shots on goal in the third period
By WGR 550 SportsRadio

Buffalo, N.Y. (WGR 550) - It wasn’t hard to figure out why the Buffalo Sabres couldn’t beat the New York Islanders on Monday. Buffalo played right into the Islanders' hands.

The Islanders aren’t even close to the best team in the NHL, but they are the most disciplined. Head coach Barry Trotz has this team dotting every "i" and crossing every "t" when it comes to playing a sound system.

If you get down two goals to a Barry Trotz-coached team, you are likely going home a loser.

In the Sabres' case, if you get down two goals to a Trotz-coached team, you’re not going to even get a shot or a scoring chance in the third period.

Yes, that happened for the first time in the history of the Sabres, where they didn’t get a shot during a period at home.

This game turned around on a dime late in the first period.

Jack Eichel found a streaking Victor Olofsson down the slot and Olofsson let it fly as soon as the puck got to his stick. However, Islanders goalie Semyon Varlamov got a pad on the shot, which, in turn, hit the post.

New York took advantage when Henri Jokiharju took a lackadaisical approach to Anders Lee coming out of the corner, and the Islanders captain tipped in the first goal of the game with Jokiharju trailing him.

Just 1:44 later, Rasmus Dahlin played Jean-Gabriel Pageau perfectly on the rush, forcing him wide. Pageau ripped a shot, but it was off angle and absolutely has to be stopped by Linus Ullmark. That soft goal made it 2-0, and you knew right then and there the Islanders would throw a blanket of frustration over the Sabres and never be threatened.

Yes, Olofsson’s power play goal cut the lead to 2-1, but Jokiharju got caught way up high on the right wing wall on a penalty kill, allowing Brock Nelson to be wide-open. Ullmark desperately pointed at Nelson for somebody to cover him, but the two-goal lead for the Islanders was restored.

Jokiharju is struggling about as badly as a defenseman can. He isn’t even close this season to playing like he did last year. I think the 21-year-old really needs some time in Rochester with the Americans to get his confidence back.

Will Borgen is ready for the NHL, and played very well on Monday. It was Borgen’s first game since last March with Rochester.

The Islanders seem to get bodies, sticks and skates on every pass and every shot.
Trotz has them in perfect position, and they make almost no mistakes when protecting a lead.

The way to beat the Islanders is to get the lead, so they can’t play the Trotz way.
Had Olofsson converted that first period chance, maybe things could’ve been different.

I think it’s fair to say the Sabres played well in parts of the game.

Buffalo hadn’t played a game in two weeks and they were without six players, who were still on the NHL’s COVID-19 Protocols list. This game was going to be an uphill climb.

The good news is it sounds like it’s possible Buffalo could get Jake McCabe and Brandon Montour back for Tuesday’s game.

The thing that was troubling, once again, is Buffalo’s best players didn’t play like their best players. They got zero production from Eichel, Jeff Skinner and Taylor Hall.

In his last two games, Skinner has played on Eichel’s line and Eric Staal’s line, and he’s had his worst two games of the season. Skinner hasn’t scored on any line in his last 15 games.

Eichel called the game sloppy, and he refused to use the break or having players missing the game as an excuse.

"We simply weren't good enough," Eichel said following the loss.

I don’t think you can attribute the two-week layoff to getting no shots on goal in the third period. That came from frustration, the inability to get pucks into the zone and losing battles. It came from players trying to stickhandle through three Islanders and losing the puck. Varlamov has put up great numbers this season, but the Islanders could’ve played without a goalie in the third period because Buffalo had no shots on goal.

So now the hole is deeper.

With the win, the Islanders jumped into third place in the East Division with a .607 points percentage. The Washington Capitals and Pittsburgh Penguins are .577 and the New Jersey Devils are .556. Buffalo falls to a points percentage of .455.

Things are simple for Tuesday: Buffalo’s best players have to produce like their best players. The goaltending can’t let in soft goals to fall behind. Varlamov made three or four huge saves and Ullmark didn’t.

That must change.

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