No matter how glaring a mistake, there is never one moment that loses a hockey game. Whether a bad goal, a giveaway, or just a missed opportunity; no matter what the situation there is somewhere else that can shoulder the load as well. Even late in a game or in overtime, there are reasons a game gets to that point to look back on. In the hour of hockey played each game, there is never just one mistake or reason for anything.
In tonight’s game there were two major reasons for failure. It was a game of two acts, two different periods each with a distinct reason for the loss. This wasn’t one of those zero effort Sabres losses, which are frustrating in their own way. This was a game where two different problems killed any momentum the Sabres had and eventually cost them two points.
The game began with the Sabres playing almost perfect hockey. Ruff’s gospel of hard work from the forwards was well read, and the forecheck was pretty outstanding. Everyone was hitting and giving the Chicago defenseman a tough time, disrupting their ability to get the puck up ice and capitalize on the speed of their forwards. The first goal was a result of good work on the forecheck and a timely turnover. Teppo keeps it in the zone and gets it to Mair, who makes a nice pass in front to Kotalik. Ales puts a great shot past a diving Huet, and it’s 1-0. It’s exactly the kind of goal this team can create, especially with the third and fourth lines checking hard.
The rest of the first period saw the Sabres continue to work like this, with chances developed off of a good forecheck and aggressive play. Everyone hit, including Pominville and even Hecht, who avoided a Seabrook check and almost put him into the Sabres bench. Things were going good, and then we remembered that the backup goaltender was in net.
It wasn’t a complete disaster, but Sharp’s goal is certainly stoppable. The initial save is something you need to get with a team like Chicago, and even then the Sharp shot was a trickle. Goals like this destroy momentum, much like the second goal absolutely freaking obliterated anything the Sabres had going for them. I’m not even going to talk about because I still have no idea what happened. Either way, something like that should not be the cost of playing your backup, no matter how much your defenseman back off. Toews shot should never hit the back of the net.
Still, the game wasn’t over there. The Sabres carried the same play into the second period, getting chances and disrupting Chicago’s puck moving defenseman. Lydman and Rivet both played well, and the defense kept the Blackhawks scorers in check for the majority of the period. The exception was at the 5:53 mark, when Martin Havlat led a 3 on 1 down the ice and scored high on Lalime. Should it have been stopped? Maybe, but it should have never happened. Sekera made a bad pinch and couldn’t get back in time, and Havlat did the rest himself.
The effort still wasn’t completely awful. The forwards even backchecked hard, with Stafford knocking Duncan Keith out of the game when he cut across the middle. We’ll talk more about the hit later, but Ben Eager didn’t like it very much and gets himself six minutes in the box. This is the chance Buffalo needs to get back into the game, and you need at least one goal on three straight power plays, right?
Well, you all know what happens next. One shot in six minutes. If Patrick Lalime gave the game away, the power play unit gave away any chance for a comeback. There was no flow to the play, and even getting into the Chicago zone was an issue. If there was ever a time to use a timeout in the second period, this was the time to do it. Only a Tim Connolly shot sometime in the third penalty got through to Huet, who honestly didn’t have to do much tonight.
What’s amazing about this stretch is that it never felt like the Sabres had a chance to set anything up. There were some cycles at times, but there was no Vanek tip shot, no backdoor pass to Roy. Nothing. The defenseman couldn’t get into open shooting lanes, and shot after shot was blocked by Chicago. The best scoring chance of the entire sequence was when Lalime misplayed the puck and Chicago missed the empty net on a wrap around. It was an absolute disaster, a clusterf*ck of epic proportions, and the Sabres never recovered. I’ve never seen a worse six minute power play, and that’s not a statement based on the rarity of the situation. Suddenly Chicago had a two goal lead and all the momentum in the world to boot.
Sabres fans spent the intermission writhing in pain on the floor while Jason Pominville scratched his face on camera, and 17 seconds into the third Wisniewski puts it in. It was over. A 4-1 deficit against a team that has lost twice at home in regulation all year. The Sabres continued to play aggressive hockey, but it didn’t matter. After another wasted power play, the Sabres took the last three penalties of the game and the horn sounded as Seabrook tried to pile on.
This wasn’t exactly a wasted effort, but the term “waste” should still be used somewhere. The Sabres played a good period of hockey but still came away from it trailing 2-1. From there everything fell apart, and they never recovered from a few bad bounces and a misplayed shot. Brian Campbell didn’t exact vengeance on his former squad, and Patrick Kane didn’t put on a show for his hometown team. It wasn’t a great team pulling away like against Detroit; this was two evenly matched teams playing a game where one team made a ton of mistakes. Lalime needs to be better, the defense still needs work, and a top ten power play unit needs to score on a six minute power play. It wasn’t just one thing, but a deadly combination that gave away another two points on the road.
Tonight’s game wasn’t lost in just one place, it was lost everywhere.