For the second consecutive game in Stockholm, the Buffalo Sabres simply could not keep up with the high-octane Tampa Bay Lightning, dropping the second game of the NHL Global Series by a score of 5-3. The blue-and-gold have now dropped six of their last seven contests after starting the season 8-1-1. Recently, several of the same issues that haunted them last season have reemerged.
Plus-1: Starting Hot
During the two-game series against the Lightning in Sweden, not a lot went right for the Sabres. The talent gap was evident in both contests, but Buffalo did do a nice job coming out of the gate in both games to try and set the pace. The Sabres did score the opening tally of the game off the stick of Sam Reinhart, and out-shot Tampa Bay 17-12 in the first period.
Obviously, that effort ultimately ended up being futile, but still, against one of the best teams in the NHL, starting strong and setting the tone early is important so, credit where it’s due.
Minus-1: Sloppy Defensive Play
As was the case in yesterday’s game, the Sabres defense did a terrible job in front of the net, allowing multiple opportunities in high-danger areas. The Lightning had an extremely easy time chipping away at rebounds (often multiple) in front of Carter Hutton.
While the re-vamped Buffalo defense has shown improvement from a puck-moving standpoint this season, they need to do a better job in deep. Allowing multiple rebound opportunities while your goalie is sprawled out is not a recipe for success.
Minus-2: Power-Play Continues to Struggle
Since their hot start to the 2019-20 season, the Sabres’ lack of success on the power-play (and penalty kill, for that matter) has been a big part of the reason for their recent struggles. While they still hold one of the best conversion-rates in the NHL at 25-percent, they’ve converted on only two of their last 13 opportunities during the current five-game losing streak.
Prior to the season, fans mostly agreed that special teams would play a critical role if the team was going to make strides in Ralph Kureger’s first season behind the bench. So far, the Sabres have gone as far as the previously potent power-play unit has taken them. If they want to get back on track, they need to regain their success in that area.
Minus-3: Lack of Depth Scoring
Similar to last season, the Sabres’ current slump has been in large part due to a lack of offensive production. Over the past six games, the only Buffalo forwards to score a goal have been the “big four” of Jack Eichel, Sam Reinhart, Victor Olofsson, and Jeff Skinner.
Kureger did try to address that issue today by shaking up his forward combinations, but it did not have an immediate effect. We’ll see how he continues to try and resolve that problem (at least he recognizes it, which is more than can be said for Phil Housley), but Buffalo simply cannot stay afloat in the standings without consistent depth scoring.
Fan enthusiasm was high after the team collected 17 of a possible 20 points to start the year. Over the past couple weeks however, the regression has come hard and fast. There is little question that this season’s squad is markedly better than what we saw a year ago. That being said, the same general issues remain, albeit to a milder extent.
How the team rebounds from their current slump will be key. If they curl into a ball like they did in 2018-19, we could be in for a long season. Hopefully that isn’t the case.