Breaking down Buffalo’s 3-0 loss to the Canadiens
It was another basement battle at KeyBank Center Friday night as the Buffalo Sabres played host to the Montreal Canadiens, who coming into the game were six points ahead of the Sabres but firmly entrenched in the lottery duel.
As far as the scoreboard goes, this was as boring of a game as you could see. Despite Montreal winning 3-0, only one goal was a non-empty net tally, coming off the stick of Artturi Lehkonen roughly five minutes into the second period.
ARTTURI LEHKONEN POTS THE REBOUND TO GIVE THE CANADIENS THE LEAD! pic.twitter.com/pM8ymG8B5t
— NHL Daily 365 (@NHLDaily365) March 24, 2018
Alex Galchenyuk makes a little move around Marco Scandella to create space and then attempts to get the puck towards the net but it’s blocked in front. The puck does, however, find its way to Jacob De La Rose, whose shot goes wide of the net (perhaps intentionally) but Lehkonen is right on the doorstep to put it past a sprawling Linus Ullmark. His tenth of the year was all Montreal needed on this night.
Brendan Gallagher and former Sabres forward Paul Byron would add the two empty-netters for the Canadiens.
Shot attempts at 5v5 were 40-27 in favour of the Sabres but their expected goals for was a dismal 1.73, although still higher than the Canadiens (1.21).
As the heat map suggests, the Sabres got the better of Montreal in the high danger scoring chances department, but their inability to capitalize on these chances has been a recurring theme all year and once again cost them.
Two scoring chances in particular would go on to haunt the Sabres, both off the stick of Ryan O’Reilly. The first is this attempt after fooling goaltender Antii Niemi with a deke.
I recognize that this is a difficult angle and that he’s in tight against the goaltender, but this is a puck that only needs to be poked into the net. If it were a fourth-liner, perhaps you can be more forgiving, but when you’re asked to play the role of a core player this has to be a goal.
The second attempt came in the dying seconds of a power play in the third period. O’Reilly ends up missing the shot attempt here that would have been an easy goal, although this pass is a tough one and the puck ends up rolling around as it reaches him.
Brendan Guhle had yet another terrific night. At 5v5, he posted a CF% of 67, leading all Sabres defensemen again and was on the ice for nine scoring chances versus three against, the second-best ratio of any Sabres skater (Sam Reinhart was a plus seven).
He also led all Sabres defensemen in clean zone exits at 5v5 with nine, which include great rushes up ice like this one:
— Ben Mathewson (@Ben_Mathewson) March 23, 2018
Between the elite skating, the offensive instincts and above average passing, it appears the Sabres have found some of their answers to the defensive woes that have plagued this team for several years now. However, he won’t be able to do it on his own and though Casey Nelson has been a nice surprise for Sabres fans, Jason Botterill still needs to make improving the defense, in particular the top four, a priority in the offseason.
Ullmark only allowed one goal on 22 shots while making a few key saves. It wasn’t a particularly busy night for the Swedish goaltender, but overall, he was solid. One thing to keep an eye out for is his rebound control. In his last few starts, Ullmark has had some difficulty handling the high hard shots from the opposition and on a couple of occasions it’s resulted in a goal against. It’s nothing worth panicking over but it’s definitely something he’ll have to work on if the Sabres plan on eventually passing the starters role on to him.
The Galchenyuk line had absolutely no shot against the Guhle-Nelson pairing on this night. In fact the only Sabres skater that had a bad night possession-wise was Jordan Nolan, who finished with a CF% of 43.6. The Sabres did have a bit of tough time containing Gallagher’s line, however. Gallagher and Byron were the only two Montreal forwards to post a CF% over 50, doing most of their damage against the O’Reilly line.