Rexall Place housed one of the greatest powerhouse teams in hockey history in the 1980's. Tonight was the last time the Buffalo Sabres would play in this barn, but could not find a spark anywhere reminiscent of those great Wayne Gretzky based teams.
Riding a hot streak coming in to the game, Buffalo had scored four goals or more in their last four games, the first time the club had done that since the Drury-Briere days back in 2007. The cards seemed in their favor, as Edmonton is once again currently a cellar dweller in the NHL this season. Evander Kane had three straight multi-point games; Rasmus Ristolainen had 13 points in his last 13 games.
The Sabres started off well. Jack Eichel scored a rare road goal, stripping Leon Draisaistl along the boards and then scoring on a nifty backhand shot seven minutes into the period. Buffalo had the early jump, and by my estimation, controlled about 75% of the play in the period. Unfortunately, the five minutes of mental lapses proved to be costly. The Oilers ended the period with three straight goals by Teddy Purcell, Taylor Hall, and Jordan Eberle. Sabres defenseman Zack Bogosian was pretending to be a pylon on one of the goals, and the various defensive lapses by Buffalo were ghastly.
The remainder of the game was more of the same for the Sabres, as they seemed surprised and caught off guard by the speed of the youthful Oilers. If both clubs had fully healthy lineups, this game would have featured 20 former first round picks. Buffalo freely allowed Edmonton control of the neutral zone and easy entry into the offensive zone. All of this, and the Oilers were without their top player, Connor McDavid. Everyone looking forward to the showdown between McDavid and Eichel will have to wait for another day.
While the top line of Ryan O'Reilly, Sam Reinhart, and Evander Kane continued to play well and generate chances, the vanishing act of expected contributor Matt Moulson stayed the same. The excuse last year was that Moulson did not have the right talent around him; now that there are talented players in the lineup, what is the excuse? Overall, the defense was caught slacking too often in this game. The Oilers were swarming the net all night, with no clearance or pushback from the Sabres. Edmonton even generated multiple odd man rushes, not only on even strength, but shorthanded.
The final head scratcher for me came with 8 minutes left in the game. With the Sabres about to begin a 4-on-4, and down by two goals, coach Dan Bylsma decided to put probably the two slowest Sabres on the ice in Brian Gionta and David Legwand. Might as well have been throwing the towel on the ice with that decision. Of all the forwards to put on there, that was the decision?
Buffalo is back in action tomorrow night in Vancouver against the Canucks. Let's hope for a better performance.