The Buffalo Sabres are a team that's been out of playoff contention for a while now, but you wouldn't know it by their recent play. They've played a consistent, strong game over the past two months and had even seemed to figure how to win in the First Niagara Center, something they've struggled with all season. Things were looking up, and the team was on a quest to finish over .500 for the first time in years.
And then, on Fan Appreciation Night, it all came crashing down in a demoralizing 4-1 loss to the Columbus Blue Jackets.
The Sabres organization decided that tonight would be a good night to start three rookies, including Jason Kasdorf in net, a decision that they might reconsider given the option. Those players didn't cost the team the game by themselves, but you could tell the Sabres weren't totally in sync tonight.
Things started off fine, with a nice first shift from Evan Rodrigues amidst jittery starts from Cole Schneider and Kasdorf. The rookie goalie's first save was a bouncer that he swatted away, and he had some trouble fighting the puck throughout the night - expected for a college kid making his NHL debut. But after stopping the first ten shots of the night, Matt Calvert ripped the 11th off the post and in on the Jackets power play to give Columbus a 1-0 lead, which they would take to the first intermission.
The Sabres must have gotten some kinda talking-to in the dressing room, because they dominated play for much of the second period, going up 9-0 in shots and finishing with 18 in the second. The team got themselves on the board thanks to Jack Eichel, who rifled a pass to Sam Reinhart, who angled the puck up and in to tie the game, and it looked like the Sabres were firmly in control.
Unfortunately, it was all downhill after that as the team seemed to take their foot off the gas after tying the game, and Columbus scored the next two goals to go up 3-1. One Kasdorf had no chance on, as his defenders got caught behind the net, and the second he was frozen on a 3-on-2. It was a rough period for the rookie, who let in two goals on just six shots in the second.
"I think biggest thing is to get used to is the speed of the release and speed of the shots, those are two goals I should've had," said the rookie netminder after the game. Kasdorf didn't get much help from his teammates on any of the four goals, with sloppy coverage and poor decision making leading to three of the four Blue Jackets goals.
Things did not improve to start the third, as the Sabres gave up another goal from behind the net, with defensemen and goalie alike getting twisted around until Brandon Saad put home his 30th of the year. Once down 4-1, both teams seemed to lose interest in the game, and the Sabres were in full-on Wild Flailing Mode for the final ten minutes.
In addition to losing the game, the Sabres lost Zach Bogosian, who went out with a lower body injury and will not play tomorrow.
All in all, this was a disappointing way to end the home schedule for a team that had actually been playing pretty well down the stretch. With the loss in regulation, the Sabres will not finish with a .500 record this season, and sent their fans home feeling very unappreciated indeed. Ryan O'Reilly echoed that sentiment, saying, "We haven't been good here, the fans deserve better, it's unacceptable. That was not the way we wanted to go out in this building."
The good news is, the future is bright and the Sabres have one more game to redeem themselves - see you tomorrow, Sabres fans, for the season finale against the Islanders.
1. How will Schneider, Rodrigues, and Kasdorf look in their NHL debuts?
Of the three, it was Evan Rodrigues who had the best shooting. He actually led the Sabres with two shots in the first period despite playing exactly two minutes, and finished with a team-leading five shots on the night. He speed was evident, though it was also evident that he needs to get stronger.
Cole Schneider looked fine, being understandably shaky in the first period but simplifying his game as the night went along. He finished with two shots in just under 13 minutes.
As for Kasdorf, well, this sums it up pretty well. Some good, some bad, let's see how he does in Rochester next year.
Two of these goals have been 0% Kasdorf ls fault. The other two were a 100% his fault— WNY HOCKEY PROSPECTS (@wnyh2234) April 9, 2016
2. Who will win this year's team awards?
The Sabres players voted, and the team announced the following awards prior to puck drop tonight in a short, on-ice ceremony.
- Team MVP: Ryan O'Reilly
- Rookie of the Year: Jack Eichel
- Unsung Hero: Chad Johnson
- Sabres Foundation Man of the Year: Marcus Foligno
Johnson and O'Reilly were certainly deserving, and it's hard to make a case against Eichel, though the Reinhart co-winner idea had some merit. Still, a much nicer looking list than last season.
3. It's Fan Appreciation Night! Will Sabres fans in attendance feel sufficiently appreciated?
If you won a jersey, a ROWard, or the $80,000 50/50 drawing, then yes. Everyone else, no.
Comment of the Game
Talk about disorganized.
This comment was for the pre-game awards ceremony, but I think it aptly describes the Sabres offensive and defensive startegy tonight.