The Sabres need to get back to what made them successful against Tampa Bay

February 16, 2018

The Buffalo Sabres had been on a roll as of late, winners of three in four games heading into Ottawa to play the Senators on Thursday night. The Sabres had also been red-hot on the road, winners of their last four games away from KeyBank Center.

Buffalo managed to grab a 2-1 lead in the game with about five minutes to play, but Ottawa came back with a goal in the final minute to tie the game and force overtime. In the extra time, Senators forward Mike Hoffman ended things with a one-time shot that beat Lehner to his left as the Sabres executed a poor line change.

The game before on Tuesday night against the Tampa Bay Lightning, the Sabres had put together one of their best performances of the season in a 5-3 win over the NHL's best team. Sabres forward Ryan O'Reilly knows that Tuesday's effort got away from them in Ottawa on Thursday.

"It wasn't a great game by us," O'Reilly said after practice on Friday at KeyBank Center. "Coming off the win before, we got away from some things and it's unfortunate because [Robin Lehner] played a phenomenal game. He played outstanding, gave us a chance to win and we let him down. There are some things we have to get back to. We have to stay out of the box. We can't be giving them the momentum like that, and we have to get back to little battles, getting the puck in deep, possessing it low and wearing them down a bit more. It wasn't a game we wanted, and it was even more disappointing that [Lehner] had that performance and we didn't help him out to get that [win]."

"I think everyone knows it wasn't our best effort," Sabres forward Evan Rodrigues echoed in the Sabres locker room after practice. "It's a long season, you don't want to have those games but sometimes they happen. We were still able to get a point out of it, but obviously we would've liked to have gotten the win. Those are games that you have to put behind you and move on. I think that's what we've all done. We had a good practice today, it was very upbeat after a game like yesterday. Hopefully we can bring that same attitude tomorrow."

The Sabres will continue their stretch of games against teams looking to make the playoffs on Saturday as they get set to host the Los Angeles Kings. The Kings are coming off a 3-1 loss to the Pittsburgh Penguins on Thursday, and will play Saturday's game as losers of three straight.

Sabres head coach Phil Housley was not pleased with his team's effort on Thursday night, and made it clear at practice that they have to get back to where they were Tuesday in their win over Tampa Bay.

"We addressed some situations this morning, but it was just a bit uncharacteristic of the way we have been playing. I didn't like our compete and our attitude in the battles. I think over the whole game, those things come back to haunt you. Then the hockey gods came through where we should have closed out that game. But in saying that, even though we played poorly, we held a one-goal lead with one minute to go. We put ourselves in a position to win, but I don't we want to approach tomorrow's game that way. I thought we played the last four-to-five games reasonably well and beat some good teams. I just think we got away from that.

"I think it's more disappointing because we're making strides and we were playing the right way. For us, all 20 guys have to be focused and prepared to battle and win those 1-on-1 battles. I thought we had a lot of one-armed reach ins with sticks and not getting engaged. Eventually, that's going to come back and bite you."

Rodrigues has been playing very well for the Sabres lately after a cold slump through much of the last couple of months. In his last five games, Rodrigues has two goals and five points, including another goal on Thursday in Ottawa.

The 24-year old forward is just trying to do his part to contribute to the team's success with Jack Eichel sidelined with a high-ankle sprain.

"I'm just doing me," Rodrigues said. "Everyone has kind of picked up their game since Jack went down, and I'm just trying to do the same thing. Obviously he's a big loss, he's a franchise player, but every team goes through it. When teams do, everyone else has to pick up their game and fill the hole.

"I've just been focusing in on those 1-on-1 battles, trying to be hard in the corners, and I think things are starting to come together. I've had some great plays by some teammates, and I'm just trying to pick my spots and get to the dirty areas."

Rodrigues was back centering the second line on Friday with Benoit Pouliot off to his left and Kyle Okposo to his right.

As for Jordan Nolan, Saturday will be the second time this season he faces his former team. The last matchup between the Sabres and Kings resulted in a 4-2 win for the Kings at Staples Center.

As the Kings have struggled with their recent three-game losing streak, they have fallen out of the playoff picture for the time being. However, they remain just three points back of a playoff spot in the Western Conference Wild Card picture and the Pacific Division standings.

The Sabres are well out of the playoff picture, and it would take an absolute miracle run for the team to get into the playoffs. Nolan admitted on Friday that it is not easy being out of the playoff race while his former team is just on the outside looking in. 

"It's not fun," Nolan said. "Not fun losing this many games and being out of it so early. But we still have a lot to work for. Guys are battling for different things, and we're just coming in here and just working, trying to put our best foot forward and win some games."

Here's how the lines and defensive pairings looked on Friday:


Kane - O'Reilly - Reinhart

Pouliot - Rodrigues - Okposo

Wilson - Larsson - Pominville

Girgensons - Josefson - Nolan

Scandella - Nelson

Beaulieu - Ristolainen

Falk - Antipin

Gorges - Baptiste

Be sure to tune in at 12 p.m. for the Paul William Beltz Pre-Game Show on Saturday with Pat Malacaro as he will be joined by Paul Hamilton in the broadcast booth at KeyBank Center. Also get the chance to hear from Rodrigues, Nolan, and Housley from the locker room.

Faceoff against the Kings is set for 1 p.m.