Sabres show resilience but fall to Rangers, 4-3

January 19, 2018
by

The Sabres rolled into Thursday’s matchup with the New York Rangers fresh off their bye week, hoping the rest could get them going during the second half of the season.

However, it was hardly the dream start they were looking for. The rest came with rust as just over a minute into the game Rick Nash was gifted a breakaway opportunity, leading to his 12th goal of the season and giving the Rangers an early 1-0 lead.

This may have been lazy work from Jake McCabe but looks a lot like bye week rust. McCabe was rather slow to the puck but worse than that, he just whiffed on his attempt to slap the puck away. Nash caught the Sabres blueliner flat-footed and made no mistake one-on-one against Robin Lehner.

To their credit, the Sabres bounced back very well after the quick tally by the Rangers. As the first period went on they generated much more zone time and scoring chances, including this shorthanded opportunity from Benoit Pouliot.

This is very good patience from Ryan O’Reilly to get around the diving Rangers defenseman, but the pass ends up being just a little too hot to handle for Pouliot as he slides it just wide of the net. The Sabres would eventually be rewarded for their hard work with a power play goal in the final two minutes of the period.

The first reaction is that this is a poor goal to give up for Henrik Lundqvist but this was good puck movement from the Sabres power play, and that’s been something of a rarity this season. Jack Eichel finds Sam Reinhart down low who makes a quick tape-to-tape pass to Kyle Okposo, and his shot squeaks under the arm of Lundqvist to tie the game at 1-1.

The Sabres got off to a much better start in the second period and both teams managed some very good scoring opportunities. Both Lehner and Lundqvist were sharp, but near the midway point of the period, broken down coverage and a turnover both result in J.T Miller getting a great look on goal and he buries it to give the Rangers a 2-1 lead.

Turnovers on the half wall are never good but the player to watch here is Pouliot.

In this shot Pouliot is the Sabres skater closest to the goal line where eventual scorer J.T Miller is. The Sabres seem to be in relatively good position as the they battle for the puck along the wall.

Just a second later, however, Pouliot has already begun heading up ice, leaving Miller wide open down low. The puck battle is eventually won by the Rangers and by the time Pouliot notices, he’s caught flat footed and Miller gets a wide open high danger scoring chance and converts on his tenth of the year.

The Sabres once again never let up as they continued to battle for the equalizer, and towards the end of the period they’d pull even as a seeing eye shot from Justin Falk (his first goal in 100 games) tied the game at two.

This shot looks as if it may have ever so slightly changed directions off Brady Skjei’s skate in front of Lundqvist, but regardless this is a good low shot from Falk and with good traffic in front of the net to tie the game up.

The third period saw the Sabres take their foot off the gas and it cost them. Just under seven minutes into the period, Nash found himself alone on the doorstep with a yawning cage where he’d tap in his second of the game and give the Rangers the lead once again.

Eichel is just a half step too late to react to the bounce off the boards (the original shot having been deflected by Nash himself) but the more alarming part of this goal is where the two Sabres d-men are. The two closest Sabres players to the puck from the point shot to the goal were Eichel and Okposo. Falk and McCabe are somewhere in the high slot and though Nash was Eichel’s responsibility, it’s curious to say the least that Falk and McCabe weren’t down low towards the net on this play.

The goal would eventually spark the Sabres to step it up a notch, and their resiliency paid off with another power play marker to tie the game at three with 5:01 remaining in the third.

Good puck movement once again translates into another great scoring chance as Rasmus Ristolainen rips a one timer from the point that seems to be deflected by O’Reilly on the way to the back of the net (although official scoring still has Ristolainen as the goal scorer).

The celebrating would be short lived as the Rangers would retake the lead for a third time just one minute later.

This is sloppy defending off the turnover all around from the Sabres but the turning point on this goal comes here:

This is Marco Scandella attempting to carry the puck out of the zone. While there is pressure from the Rangers forward, Scandella has to be much stronger on the puck.

This image is very telling too. At this point Evander Kane has already flown past the whole play looking offense before the Sabres even have the puck, and O’Reilly isn’t too far behind. Once the Rangers recovered the loose puck it was essentially a 3-on-2 the other way from the circles in towards Lehner. Ristolainen gets beat by a very patient Mika Zibanejad, who feeds Pavel Buchnevich in front for his twelfth goal of the year and the game winner.

The possession or shot share numbers remained fairly even throughout the night (51.5% to 48.5% in favour of the Sabres) and when adjusted for score effects the Sabres actually come out ahead for the majority of the game.

Courtesy of Corsica.com

The expected goals for numbers tell a different story. The Sabres got schooled pretty badly here, particularly at 5v5. The Rangers xG numbers were just under three whereas the Sabres finished at 1.59. This lines up with the eye test pretty well as even though they generated some zone time, the bulk of the Sabres scoring chances and goals came on the man advantage.

Matchup chart also courtesy of Corsica.com

This 5 on 5 matchup chart can be confusing to read but here’s the most basic breakdown. The size of the tile is scaled by time on ice and the color indicates who had the advantage in the matchup based on adjusted expected goals for. For example, a quick glance would tell you that Okposo had a pretty tough night against Zibanjead, as the square is bigger (more ice time vs him) and shaded heavily in blue (Zibanejad dominating him in expected goals for).

As a whole the Sabres didn’t fare well here (although Pominville and Kane really took it to their matchups) and 5v5 play is definitely something Housley will want to improve on in the second half of the season.

The only other note to touch on in an otherwise enjoyable game is the embellishment call on Sam Reinhart. Here’s the play:

This call is so bad it borders on hysterical. Yes, it certainly is possible Reinhart chose to dive head first into the boards, because concussions are so in for 2018. Or, he got cross checked from behind while in a vulnerable position and couldn’t stay on his feet. I find it interesting that the same league that claims it’s trying to crack down on these very plays came to conclusion number one for Reinhart.

I think what most people (and apparently the National Hockey League) tend to miss is that the play isn’t about what happened to Reinhart but what Kevin Shattenkirk attempted to do. If a player tried to chicken wing an opposing skater who wasn’t looking but only caught a bit of him, it wouldn’t change the fact that the player tried to blindside another player with a dirty hit. These crosschecks from behind are some of the more dangerous plays in hockey and aren’t needed in the game.

Michael Ghofrani
About Michael Ghofrani

Michael Ghofrani has been working on finding hockey statistics that can break down and explain certain game events. He's also a Sabres follower from Toronto doing his best to fend off Leafs Nation.

Browse more articles by Michael Ghofrani.

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