There is admittedly a lot that the Buffalo Sabres need to work on as they try to claw their way out of what is now an eight-game losing streak, but one point to focus on is their response. Over the last handful of games, it’s become clear that the team struggles to respond when their opponent scores. As soon as the opposing team scores - whether it’s the opening goal of the game or if it ties the game after a Sabres goal - Buffalo absolutely collapses, and the game can quickly spiral out of their control.
Let’s look at a few games of their current losing skid for examples.
First: the 5-2 loss to the New York Islanders on March 7. This game actually started off alright for the Sabres! As soon as the Islanders scored their first goal, however, it all fell apart. Anders Lee opened the scoring just over five minutes into the second period, and Brock Nelson quickly doubled the lead. By the end of the second, the Sabres found themselves in a 3-0 hole.
The day prior was similar. This time, the Sabres struck first, with Jacob Bryson notching his first NHL goal just 33 seconds into the game. Watching the game, it was a shining moment. Buffalo even managed to hold onto the lead for more than 23 minutes of action, and maybe some watching even started to think that the team had found *something.* But as soon as Mat Barzal performed that disgustingly beautiful move to tie the game, the Sabres fell apart. Nelson & Cal Clutterbuck added goals within the next five minutes, and Buffalo went from having the upper-hand to being down by a pair, then by three before the end of the middle frame.
Another similar example was the February 28 loss to the Philadelphia Flyers. Things went alright in the first period, but once Sean Couturier scored just 22 seconds into the middle frame, the Sabres couldn’t respond. Just over a minute later, Michael Raffl made it 2-0.
The Sabres were better at responding in Tuesday’s game against the Flyers, so there’s at least some bright spot there. When James van Riemsdyk opened the scoring only 1:56 in, I was sure the game was doomed from the get-go. This time, Buffalo actually responded - first with Sam Reinhart tying the game, then with Riley Sheahan giving the Sabres the lead. It was a refreshing change from the last few games, but the end result was the same.
It’s not just about scoring first, though that does seem to help the Sabres at least a little. This season so far, Buffalo is 4-4 when scoring first. Not great, not terrible, right? But when their opponent scores first, Buffalo is 2-14, which just speaks further
Ultimately, the Sabres have a whole bunch of aspects of their game they need to work on, but the response is one of them. It simply will not work if your response to the other team scoring is to absolutely fall apart, especially when your goaltending isn’t the strongest - with Carter Hutton and Jonas Johansson as your tandem and Linus Ullmark still expected to be out for a while - and your offense isn’t exactly racking up the goals, either.