Buffalo, N.Y. (WGR 550) - The Buffalo Sabres just repeated on Tuesday what they started on Monday. The team fell behind to the New York Islanders, 2-0 in the first period after goals by Anders Lee and Jean-Gabriel Pageau, and watched a very disciplined team just overwhelm them at every turn.
I documented on Monday how the Islanders always have a body, skate or stick in front of every pass or every shot. By doing that, Buffalo only had 20 shots on net to go with 19 shots being blocked and 14 shot sailing wide. That’s 33 shot attempts that didn’t hit the net.
It took Buffalo almost five-and-a-half periods over two games to finally get people to the crease, and when they did, they dominated the action.
In the second period, it was sickening to see Sam Reinhart rip a shot that Ilya Sorokin stopped but left a huge rebound. Instead of stopping at the net, Eric Staal and Taylor Hall skated by the net. That is inexcusable. That was one of three Buffalo shots in the period.
As the third period started, Sorokin, who had never won a NHL game, was having the easiest professional game he had every played. He made a good save on a Hall breakaway in the first period, but pretty much stood there for most of the game.
Once things got rolling and he had Sabres players all around him, he earned his first NHL shutout, robbing Victor Olofsson alone in the slot, and stopping Kyle Okposo in tight as he attacked the crease with vigor and purpose.
On the very next shift, Riley Sheahan and Jake McCabe joined the fun, causing havoc in the crease.
Later, Hall found a wide-open Reinhart off the post and Sorokin somehow got across to rob No. 23.
With 7:36 left, the Sabres got a power play and Olofsson cut the lead to 2-1, ripping a one-timer under the crossbar, but Barry Trotz challenged the play for offside and he won. Jack Eichel was offside entering the zone.
It's a shame the Sabres only played well offensively for half of a period. Had they put in a full offensive effort, they would’ve had a good chance to beat a rookie goalie.
Buffalo didn’t play poorly defensively in either game, as the Islanders were getting many chances. They don’t have to, as adding to a two-goal lead isn’t part of the Trotz plan. Choking off the other team to the brink of total frustration is his plan, and nobody coaches it better.
There’s a huge reason why the Sabres are in seventh place in the East Division with a points percentage of .417. The offensive stars of this team have been nowhere to be found. Eichel, Hall and Jeff Skinner have three goals between them. Skinner hasn’t scored in 16 games. Hall hasn’t hit the back of the net in 11, and Eichel has no goals in four games after starting the season with no goals in six games.
Reinhart has one goal in six games, and Staal has one goal in five. It doesn’t matter if these players play a good game, they must produce. They aren’t paid to play good games. The captain has to put this team on his shoulders and carry them, and he hasn’t come close.
Hall pointed the finger at nobody but himself for this team's offensive failure.
“I can’t lie to you, if I have four or five goals right now, you don’t really know what our season looks like, especially with how close the games we’ve had,” Hall said following Tuesday's loss. “When you’re not scoring, you have to change something and find whatever is in your game that’s not allowing you to put the puck in the net.”
Skinner has played the last three games with the Eichel or the Staal line, and he’s had his worst three games of the season. I’m sure all the fans put that on Ralph Krueger, because in this town, unless your name is Carter Hutton or Rasmus Dahlin, players are not held accountable for their play.
On the other side, Tage Thompson was the Sabres' best player on Tuesday. He, along with Sheahan and Rasmus Asplund, were the only line in the first period that got any offensive zone time or pressure. Thompson used his body to engage in battles along the wall and did a good job to win them. He was hard to handle, as he got himself and pucks to the net.
Skinner was so bad playing with Eichel, Thompson eventually went to that line and Eichel played better.
Another bright spot is Will Borgen. In both games, he showed he’s ready to play regularly in the NHL. He doesn’t make the fancy play, but he skates well and makes a good first pass. He also makes it difficult for other teams to play in front of the net or on the wall.
Borgen did a fine job on the penalty kill, and was paired with McCabe on Tuesday, who returned after a bout with COVID-19.
I think it would be a huge mistake to pull Borgen out of the lineup, even when everybody is healthy. He brings something to the defense that only Rasmus Ristolainen brings.
After having Wednesday off, the Sabres travel to Washington on Thursday to play the Capitals.