The Buffalo Sabres have fallen into a habit of getting off to bad starts over the past two weeks. Tonight was no different. The Hurricanes jumped out to a 2-0 lead in the first period and never looked back. It’s hard to really put a finger on the main reason for the Sabres slow starts.
Some of the blame can go to the coaching for not having their players ready to play on a consistent basis to start games. On the flip side of the coin, the players are paid to play hockey games and be professionals. It’s an odd trait the team has picked up and it’s uncertain what they can do to get out of what has now become a routine.
Lehner: "After that first (period) we know we have to do something. I think we all felt pretty embarrassed coming in here after the first."
— Mike Harrington (@ByMHarrington) December 23, 2016
Along with the slow start, the Sabres continue to let opportunities to gain ground in the standings pass them by. They appeared to have an excellent chance to pick up points in the last few weeks of the month, but have failed to do so thus far. If they can’t rebound over the next weeks, they can find themselves in a world of trouble come 2017.
The Sabres once again came out flat to start this game. The Hurricanes could have easily skated off at the first intermission with a four or five goal lead. Buffalo handed them odd man rush after odd man rush throughout the period. They were sloppy with the puck and were turning it over routinely.
Jeff Skinner got Carolina on the board less than three minutes into the game with his 13th of the season. Skinner’s goal was the first odd-man rush of the game the Sabres gave up and it ended up in their net. After Lehner bailed them out on another handful of grade-A opportunities, the Hurricanes would get their second of the game late in the period. This time it came off the stick of Justin Faulk on a three-on-one rush for his sixth of the season.
[HIGHLIGHT] @JustinFaulk27 scores off a nice dish from Lee Stempniak. #Redvolution #CARvsBUF pic.twitter.com/X3ATrGAbsn
— Carolina Hurricanes (@Canes) December 23, 2016
The first period was also muddied with a frankly shocking coaching decision by Dan Bylsma. Jack Eichel didn’t practice with the power play units in the morning skate and nobody really put a lot into it. Bylsma indicated in his pregame press conference he was just trying to get a different look. Well, that carried over into the game. On the club’s first power play, Eichel didn’t see one second of time on the ice. It goes without saying the Sabres managed zero shots during that man-advantage.
[Goal GIF] @Jo92No pus the #Canes on the board first! #Redvolution #BUFvsCAR pic.twitter.com/x1GgYpVXwL
— Carolina Hurricanes (@Canes) December 18, 2016
The second stanza was much more of the same for the Sabres. They spent the majority of the period shorthanded with four penalties. They allowed the Hurricanes to carry the majority of the play and outshoot them 11-4.
In an effort to attempt to create some life on the team, Bylsma juggled his lines throughout the period. It was to no avail as the club remained down two goals after 40 minutes.
Buffalo produced some chances in the third, but not nearly enough to get back into the game. Johan Larsson would get the Sabres’ only goal on a nice pass from behind the net from Sam Reinhart. That would be the only production from the home team’s offense on the night. Carolina would add an empty-net goal to seal the deal and make it a 3-1 final.
How's this for a setup from Reino? 🍎 pic.twitter.com/RNKTsWH6uE
— Buffalo Sabres (@BuffaloSabres) December 23, 2016
The lackluster performance was truly disappointing by the Sabres. They didn’t show up for the first half of the game for the sixth consecutive matchup. They got away with it over the first few games, but have not lately. The rosy record since Eichel’s return is a thing of the past now. Buffalo has lost three straight and is 3-6 in its last nine. They let another opportunity to climb in the standings pass them by and at the same time let a team they’re chasing build its lead. The Sabres are right back at it tomorrow against another Eastern Conference foe in the New York Islanders.
CAR-Jeff Skinner (13) assisted by Jaccob Slavin and Noah Hanafin
CAR-Justin Faulk (6) assisted by Lee Stempniak
BUF-Johan Larsson (6) assisted by Sam Reinhart and Marcus Foligno
CAR-Sebastian Aho ENG (6) assisted by Victor Rask and Brett Pesce
THW Three Stars
First: Jeff Skinner (1 goal)
Second: Justin Faulk (1 goal)
Third: Cam Ward (22 saves on 23 shots)
Buffalo Sabres at New York Islanders
Barclays Center – 7 p.m. EST (Friday, Dec. 23)
Broadcast channels: MSG-B
2016-17 Season Series: Dec. 16 – Sabres 3, Islanders 2 (OT)