The Tampa Bay Lightning, currently one of the top teams in the NHL, and the 2nd best scoring team, skated into Buffalo tonight without their best player: Steven Stamkos.
The Buffalo Sabres, currently one of the worst teams in the NHL, and last in the league in scoring, hosted Tampa Bay tonight without their best player: Jack Eichel.
What we saw, was the differences between a Stanley Cup contender and a basement dweller. The Lightning know how to win without their star, and rely on depth. The Sabres displayed little passion, and no identity. Tampa Bay has a coach that makes in-game adjustments; Buffalo has a coach that can't get a spark out of a Zippo with fresh flint and butane right now.
The game started off well enough for Buffalo. They came out of the gate with vivacious vitality and vigor. Just 2:30 in, Sam Reinhart whistled a beautiful cross-ice pass to Evander Kane, generating an excellent scoring opportunity, which was promptly saved by goaltender Ben Bishop. The Sabres would go on to lead the period in shots, 15-11.
Six minutes later, with Buffalo in their own zone, a collective mental fart led the entire team to flank the left side of the net. Jonathan Drouin and Valtterri Filppula promptly popped the puck out to a wide open Nikita Nesterov, in the right slot, whom easily deposited it into the Sabres net past Robin Lehner, for a 1-0 lead.
Gifted a pair of power-play opportunities later in the period, the Sabres were sloppy and couldn't control play with the man-advantage. With their only bright spot this far this season being stifled, you could smell the trouble for the team, like a freshly dead skunk on a highway.
In the second stanza, Buffalo again gave away a gift-horse early on. At 4:20 of the period, Bishop, from behind his net, fired a pass up the gut of the ice directly to the stick of Kyle Okposo. Ox missed the wide open net. Just a minute and a half later, a questionable call on the Sabres led an Alex Killorn power-play goal for the Lightning, on 5-on-2 rush following an ill-advised attempt at offense.
Buffalo earned their only goal of the game later in the period, on a power-play of their own. Cody Franson got the first goal of the season by a Sabres defenseman. It only took them 17 games! Franson snuck in to the slot from the point and beat Bishop with a one-timer. Kane and Taylor Fedun earned the assists.
However, with just 18 seconds left in the period, Nikita Kucherov sealed the game with his 9th goal of the season for the Lightning. The nail was in the coffin.
The Sabres had no responses in the third period, which was full of listless Buffalo activity, and a bench full of hanging heads for the majority of it. Disco Dan Bylsma made no attempts at any game changes, nothing motivational, no emotion, and the young Sabres squad succinctly followed suit. Buffalo only made 8 shots, half of which were from beyond the slots.
Buffalo has talent and skill on the team, even without Ryan O'Reilly, Eichel, Tyler Ennis, Zach Bogosian, and Dmitry Kulikov. I just get the impression that Bylsma has no clue what to do with what he has. If he can't coach them, then he shouldn't hold the coach title. We as fans have suffered greatly enough for years now. The time to turn the corner was supposed to be now. Injuries or not, it's no excuse. I'm ready for a mutiny.