Breaking down Buffalo’s 4-1 loss to Florida

March 3, 2018

The Buffalo Sabres wrapped up their stay in the Sunshine State with a 4-1 loss to the Florida Panthers. The Sabres were coming off a spirited win against the Atlantic division leading Tampa Bay Lightning but simply didn’t have enough in the tank to keep up with the Panthers.

It didn’t take long for the home team to get things going. Just under a minute and a half into the opening frame, defenseman Mike Matheson makes a nice move at the blue line to get himself into space before wiring one past Robin Lehner.

The Sabres would equalize a few minutes later thanks to some good forechecking. Ryan O’Reilly and Benoit Pouliot force a turnover in the Panthers end, getting the puck back to the point to Victor Antipin. His point shot doesn’t get through but the loose puck finds its way to O’Reilly who feeds Sam Reinhart all alone in front for his 15th of the year, tying the game at one.

It’s a shame how inconsistent this sort of effort has been all year long for the Sabres. Sure, they lack talent, but pulling off plays like this even semi-regularly, especially from players like O’Reilly, would have gone a long way to help the Sabres this season. Antipin’s shot not getting through ends up helping as the blocked attempt stings Aleksander Barkov just long enough that he loses sight of Reinhart.

With under five minutes left in the first the Panthers would retake the lead on Aaron Ekblad’s 13th goal of the season.

Much like the first Panthers goal, a faceoff win to the point and movement from the blue line creates the opportunity as Keith Yandle makes a great cross ice pass to a pinching Ekblad for the tally.

The Panthers would go on to add another two goals in the second period, the first of those coming off a great rush from Barkov.

Justin Falk has no chance here. Barkov’s acceleration and elusiveness create the play as he splits both Falk and Nathan Beaulieu before going top shelf on his backhand. An elite player doing elite things.

Colton Scieviour would add the fourth goal of the night for the Panthers, with 8:45 to go, on a juicy rebound from Lehner.

This is poor rebound control from Lehner, and the league may consider giving him primary assist credit for these, but the whole play starts at the blue line a few seconds before.

Antipin having his back to the puck carrier while the winger skates in all by himself is quite possibly the worst way to defend a blue line. It’s one of those little things that go unnoticed in the grand scale of a full season, but the Sabres have been downright awful at defending zone entries this year. It’s one thing to get beat, it’s another to not even be in a position to try and stop the entry.

Marco Scandella left the game with a lower body injury, but Phil Housley downplayed it after the game so he should be good to go Monday night versus the Toronto Maple Leafs.

This loss stings a little more because the Sabres played fairly well at 5-on-5, perhaps even better than the Panthers. It’s one of those losses you have to chalk up to a talent gap, which is tough coming off a nice win against a great team like Tampa Bay.

The Sabres and Panthers were almost dead even in expected goals for at 5-on-5 (1.37 to 1.38) and outattempted the Panthers 45 to 41 (37 to 30 5v5). Even when adjusted for score effects (trailing or leading) both teams were neck-and-neck.

The matchup chart is sort of all over the place, but the standouts include Antipin and Casey Nelson just taking it to the pairing of Matheson and former Sabres defensemen Mark Pysyk. Pouliot had a solid night as well considering how much of the Panthers top line he saw.

Other Notes:

Antipin’s name surfaced around the trade deadline as speculation grew that the oft scratched defenseman may be moved for a better opportunity. A deal never came to fruition and that’s a good thing. He’s been the subject of more than a few defensive lapses, such as the fourth Panthers goal, but as the season has gone on he’s become much more comfortable as a puck mover. He’s also become much more poised with the puck, especially in the offensive zone. This isn’t to say we should all expect him to turn into an All-Star tomorrow, but his offensive edge can be a real asset moving forward even if it’s just on the third pair.

Reinhart now has 21 points in his last 21 games, and his contract situation gets more interesting by the day. Do the Sabres offer a bridge deal, avoiding the risk of falling victim to a contract year performance? Or do they offer him a team friendly deal, giving him term at a cap hit that they believe he can exceed? This is a delicate situation as the Sabres can ill afford another bad contract, but if they lock Reinhart up long term and he does continue this sort of performance then you’ve got a steal.

Scott Wilson and Pouliot remained with the Sabres after the three o’clock trade deadline on Monday (the latter to many fans’ surprise). Tim Murray took a lot of heat for not moving expiring deals at the deadline last year, but Jason Botterill might be able to salvage this with Pouliot. Wilson was never really rumored to move but, in any case, the restricted free agent has played well for the Sabres and will probably get a spot next year. Pouliot isn’t without his flaws but if you can get him on another one or two year deal he makes for an ideal third liner. The Sabres were thin at left wing even before the Evander Kane trade so Wilson and Pouliot could be ideal stop gaps until Botterill can find a permanent fix.

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.

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