Lightning Strike in the Third to Win in Tampa

<em>Buffalo Blows Late Lead, Loses Second Straight Game</em>

Score: Sabres 3, Lightning 5

Shots: Buffalo 24, Tampa Bay 30

Buffalo Sabres Goals: Zemgus Girgensons (3), Casey Mittelstadt (2), Jeff Skinner (3)

Tampa Bay Lightning Goals: Nicholas Paul (4), Brayden Point (6), Brandon Hagel (4), Nick Perbix (1), Nikita Kucherov (6)

Minus 1: Poor Puck Control, Power Plays Cost the Sabres

The Tampa Bay Lightning always seem to dominate and make every game against them an uphill battle. Even when Buffalo has a lead, it’s difficult to relax and think the Bolts won’t tie it up.

The Sabres had three power play opportunities against the Lightning, one in the first period and two in the second. Buffalo only managed to score on one, a two-minute Pat Maroon unsportsmanlike conduct penalty where Casey Mittlestadt got the puck past Bolts goalie Brian Elliott to make it a 2-2 game.

The rest of the time, the Sabres struggled to control the puck with the man advantage, frequently giving it away and letting Tampa get shorthanded chances in Buffalo’s zone. After blowing a lead in the third, Buffalo was down 4-3 and pulled Comrie for the extra attacker. It made little difference because once again, the Sabres failed to keep the puck in Tampa’s end and the Bolts got an empty netter to seal it with a 5-3 win.

Minus 2: Poor Offense, Defensive Transitions Don’t Help

WhatGoesAround had the Comment of the Game: “I am disappointed in this game. The Sabres were the better team for the 2nd and half the 3rd but gave up 3 goals in a row – 2 resulting from chaotic defensive transition. I expect this team’s vets to be able to finish their golden chances but they did not.”

Not only did Sabres players fail to capitalize on scoring opportunities, Tampa caught them flat-footed too often and Buffalo turned the puck over way more than was close for comfort. Against a bad team you can recover, against a top franchise like the Lightning it can be fatal and it was.

The Sabres are missing key defensemen Rasmus Dahlin, Henri Jokiharju and Mattias Samuelsson. It was obvious that Buffalo’s D was depleted and the remaining defenders couldn’t keep up with Tampa’s fast offense. Even so, good teams find a way to win.

Western New York’s other pro sports team, the Buffalo Bills, beat tough opponents this season with an injury plagued secondary. The Sabres should take a clue from One Buffalo’s other half and learn how to step up when the going gets tough.

Plus 1: Skinner Snags Third Goal

Sabres forward Jeff Skinner scored his third goal of the season, a quick wrister 4:25 into the third period when Elliott left the net open. It’s the second time recently Skinner took advantage of a goaltender when they gave up a rare chance. No. 53 did it on Halloween at home and pulled it off again on the road. Let’s hope it’s something the veteran does a lot more this year.

Plus 2: Girgensons Gets One, Too

Zemgus Girgensons also got his third season goal, scoring seconds after Tampa’s first penalty expired in the first period to even it up at 1. Girgensons only had 10 goals last season and just 73 since 2013. Not a high scorer, it’s fun to see the Sabres forward get one on a tough Tampa Bay Lightning team.

Final Thoughts

The Sabres started this season off strong, winning six of their first nine games. The Blue and Gold took down some tough opponents, including the Oilers and the Flames. Now they’ve run into trouble, losing d-men to injuries and losing the consistent, aggressive hockey that wins them games when they chose to practice it for 60 minutes. If they want a shot at the postseason, they’ll have to start acting like a playoff team again instead of an amateur outfit.

The Buffalo Sabres host the Arizona Coyotes on Tuesday night at KeyBank Center. Puck drop is at 7 p.m.