Lack of possession, defensive lapses cost Sabres in 3-2 OT loss to Ottawa

February 16, 2018

The Buffalo Sabres entered last night’s matchup against the Ottawa Senators having won three of their last four, which included a win against the Eastern Conference’s best in the Tampa Bay Lightning.

Both teams find themselves towards the bottom of the standings, prepared to sell at the trade deadline but still plenty to play for with young players auditioning for jobs next year.

As far as possession goes, this game was dominated by the Senators from the opening faceoff. The Sabres took on heavy amounts of pressure but Robin Lehner stood tall, weathering the initial storm from the Sens.

Six and a half minutes in, the Sabres open the scoring as Scott Wilson gets his fifth goal of the season and his seventh point in the last eleven games.  The play starts with Nathan Beaulieu airing a puck out to center ice looking for one of his forwards. Sens defenders Thomas Chabot and Matt Borwiecki do a masterful job bobbling the puck which eventually lands on the stick of Johan Larsson. He finds Wilson who rips it top shelf from just inside the circle.

The second period featured more of the same from the first. Ottawa continued to apply tons of pressure forcing the Sabres to collapse in their own end. Lehner held down the fort and the Sabres managed to escape the period still up 1-0.

The Senators, however, would break Lehner’s shutout bid just over five minutes into the third period. A point shot from captain Erik Karlsson gets redirected by newly acquired forward Marian Gaborik to even things up at one apiece.

Karlsson’s hard, low shot is an underappreciated skill and makes all the difference here. Lehner is expecting a rising slap shot and is as a result poorly positioned for the deflected shot going the other way.

The Sabres would retake the lead with just four and a half minutes remaining in the third on a beautiful shot from Evan Rodrigues, his fourth goal of the year to make it 2-1 Sabres.

Kyle Okposo does an excellent job recovering the puck in his own end and gaining the Senators blue line to set up Rodrigues for the goal. The Senators defenders wind up backing off a little too much which buys Okposo time to catch Rodrigues in a very favorable shooting position.

The lead would not last long as the Senators managed to equalize in the final minute of regulation with their net empty. Gaborik continued his impressive debut, this time setting up Derrick Brassard, who beats a sprawling Lehner, tying it up at 2-2.

This is sloppy defending from the Sabres at a crucial moment of the game. Three guys are surrounding Matt Duchene on the entry and neither one of them can recover the puck. Reinhart isn’t nearly strong enough against Gaborik (or perhaps even aware that he was coming).

The Sabres defending has been brutal all season but this actually shocked me. There’s absolutely no reason why this should ever turn into a scoring chance. The puck carrier and his closest passing option are both marked and yet some seconds later Gaborik manages to find himself in a high danger scoring position.

The Senators would complete the comeback in overtime on a one-timer from Mike Hoffman, edging the Sabres by a final score of 3-2.

Just before the goal, Evander Kane was hesitant on making a chance after the puck was turned over.

Rodrigues and Ryan O’Reilly already complete their change but this is bad awareness from Kane. He signals for a change and then decides to skate back into the play only to change his mind one more time and head off for a change. He’s got to be aware that the puck is already headed up ice and about to enter the Sabres zone. The indecisiveness ends up gifting the Senators a three-on-two with some of their best players on the ice.

The possession/shot share numbers 5-on-5 were a nightmare. The Sabres got outattempted by one of the league’s worst 75-44 and were nearly doubled in expected goals for 3.03 to 1.2. At 5-on-5 the Sabres were only able to generate an expected goals for of 0.8. Not that this number was great before, but it’s clear without Eichel the Sabres are going to be somewhat of a snooze fest at 5-on-5.

Courtesy of

As expected, the matchup chart shows Ottawa’s dominance, in particular against the Marco Scandella-Casey Nelson pairing. Brassard’s line wound up dominating them all night.

Other Notes:

I’m not entirely sure why Phil Housley continues to distribute ice time so unevenly among the defenders. Viktor Antipin saw a grand total of 11:43 of ice time, roughly five minutes less than Beaulieu. Meanwhile Rasmus Ristolainen saw over 28 minutes and Marco Scandella received just over 26. Neither of these two defenders have done anything to suggest they deserve this much ice time. They are both regularly carved up by opposing top lines and don’t produce nearly enough offense at 5-on-5 to justify such hefty ice time. Certainly not at a rate that would keep Antipin at under 12 minutes a night.

There’s a lot of buzz around Kane and Benoit Pouliot leading up to the deadline but I’m curious to see if there’s any interest in Scott Wilson, who’s played very well the last few weeks. It’s unlikely he’s moved (especially now with Eichel out indefinitely) but a fourth line center who can chip in offensively is something teams look for on deadline day as they tweak their rosters before the playoffs.

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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