Hurricanes Rally Past Depleted Sabres 2-1 In Shoot-Out
These are difficult times. And I'm not just talking about the economy.
The Sabres are missing their two best players in Ryan Miller and Thomas Vanek. The Sabres are hovering on the borderline of the playoffs.
And the bounces are not going their way.
Tonight in Raleigh, the Sabres lost 2-1 to the Hurricanes in a shoot-out. It was a close game. The Sabres fought hard. They fired at least three shots off the post.
But in the end, Carolina got two points, and the Sabres just one.
You can't blame Pat Lalime, the Sabres back-up goalie, for this one. Lalime came down with the flu two days ago and wasn't even sure if was going to be able to play 24 hours before the puck dropped. But he sucked it up and stopped 31 out of 32 shots.
So who do you blame?
First, the forwards. They just can't seem to finish their scoring chances. Derek Roy passed the puck on a rush when he had a clear shot in the slot. Clarke MacArthur had two or three opportunities on scrums in front of the net with a loose puck at his feet, but couldn't outfight the Carolina defenseman with an open goal beckoning.
Second, the D. Toni Lydman just makes too many bad plays and never takes the body. How many times are we going to see a Sabre defenseman with what appears to be an easy exit from the Buffalo zone lose the puck and see the opponents go the other way with a dangerous chance?
Henrik Tallinder jumped into a rush and earned a glorious chance to win the game only to fire a weak shot directly into Ward's pads.
Third, the refs. Buffalo was called for six penalties; Carolina for just one. The Sabres Pat Kaleta got a penalty for having the temerity to check Rob Brindamour, one of the bigger crybabies in the league, but the refs have to protect the player with the history.
Hate to say it, but even if this Sabre team does make the playoffs, they're going nowhere. Hockey is ultimately a game of battles.
Two men going into the corner vying for the puck and one emerges. In most cases, plain and simple, that player is not a Sabre.
Two men confronting each other in the face-off circle. The games that the Sabres win the most face-offs are few and far between. In this game, they lost 39, and won just 25.
Tonight the Sabres seemed to give the effort. They out-shot the Hurricanes in the first two periods 24-13, but only had one goal to show for it. When the Hurricanes came out storming in the third, Buffalo couldn't get the puck out of their own end. They were out-shot 18-9 and were lucky to go to overtime.
In overtime, they actually had the best chance—a three-on-one that amazingly resulted in no shot as the scoring challenged Jochen Hecht elected to pass rather than shoot from point-blank range.
Then came the shoot-out. Lalime made the first save on Tuomo Ruutu'a attempt at the five-hole. Ales Kotalik tried his patented move to the backhand, but Hurricane goalie Cam Ward has been watching tape and had it covered.
Jussi Jokinen rang his shot into the net off the far post to beat Lalime. Jason Pominville had Ward beat, but his shot deflected high off the crossbar. In the game of inches, the Sabres always seem to come out on the short end.
Matt Cullen had the game on his stick but Lalime snuffed him. It all came down to Tim Connolly. The man has amazing skills, but his move against Ward was nothing distinguished, and the Hurricanes skated away with a 2-1 win, sweeping the home-and-home series with the Sabres.
Buffalo has to make a decision soon on whether to keep Connolly or trade him. The smart move would probably to trade him as even with him the Sabres aren't hoisting the Cup, but the politics of wanting to just make the playoffs will probably mean the Sabres will hang on to him even if it means he walks with no compensation during free agency.
At the end of the night, Buffalo stands tied with Carolina for eighth place with 69 points. The Rangers and Florida are just ahead tied for sixth with 70 points, and Pittsburgh lurks behind in 10th place with 66 points.
Two of these five teams are not making the playoffs. The Sabres may have lost arguably their best defenseman, Jaro Spacek, with an injury tonight.
Without their best forward, Vanek, best d-man, Spacek, best goalie (Miller), and no reinforcements promised by the skinflint tight Buffalo GM Darcy Regier, I'm sorry to say I would not bet on the Sabres being one of the three that do.