Predators Hunt Down Sabres, as Playoff Hopes Dwindle

Buffalo’s poor defensive awareness and goaltending once again lead to a thrashing in a 7-3 loss to Nashville.

Score: Sabres - 3 | Predators - 7

Shots: BUF - 31 | NSH - 27

Buffalo Sabres Goals: Cozens (27), Thompson (43), Skinner (30)

Nashville Predators Goals: Tomasino (4), Duchene (20, 21), Novak (14), Evangelista (4,5), McDonagh (2)

Minus 1: Unwatchable Once Again

The Sabres have seemingly reverted back to their old form this past month, as many of the games have been tough to watch and the team once again, looks out of sorts. Aside from the Rangers game (a 2-1 loss), Buffalo’s last three home games before Tuesday’s nights against Nashville were utter flops, as they were outscored 17-4 against Dallas and Boston. One might think they were due for a triumphant win against a somewhat depleted Predators team, which featured a far more inexperienced team than the Sabres put out on the ice. A Sabres team that only a few weeks ago was in the thick of a playoff race, with many believing this might be the year to end the drought.

And once again, they were absolutely embarrassed in front of their home crowd.

It’s to the point that Buffalo might just have the worst defensive zone play in the league, and if you don’t agree, tonight’s game once again provided far too much evidence. Throughout the first two periods, Nashville was given numerous breakaway and net front chances by the Sabres, who never seem to have every skater accounted for in their own zone, to go along with the costly turnovers they eternally commit. Anderson provided little to no support between the pipes and was chased after giving up six goals on 20 shots. Buffalo came out in the third and put some pressure on, like we’ve seen them do after the game is already out of hand, but scoring six goals against a competent goalie like Saros will rarely happen. I’m sure Friday’s game against the Devils, a team with the second-best goal differential in the league, won’t be a disaster, right?

Minus 2: Confidence Lost

Unfortunately for the Sabres, it’s easy to see that the confidence in all three aspects of their game are shot, and every team they’ve played the past few weeks has noticed it as well. The vibes are so off with this team it’s got Buffalo’s leading scorer, Tage Thompson, dropping the gloves right off the faceoff. While Thompson was able to break his season high eight-game goalless drought against the Preds, his demeaner on the ice is completely off from the player who scored four hat tricks this season.

The Sabres noticeably seem to play a kind of game that hinges a lot on momentum and that needs to dictate to their play style, which propelled them successfully through most of this season, but all of that is gone now. It was easy to see against Nashville, as soon as one sloppy goal went in, the floodgates were going to open, and Buffalo could never regain their footing against a team they have no business losing to in that fashion.

But if any group on the team needs a shot of confidence right now more than anyone, it’s the goaltending room. After Comrie and UPL were recently shelled for ten and seven goals against respectively, it was Anderson’s turn to put up a stinker in net, as the Sabres defense stood idly by providing little support. While UPL came in and finished the remainder of the game without any more damage, it was hard not to think that the result would have been any different had he or Comrie been the one to start, which speaks to the state of Buffalo’s goaltending trio at the moment.

Minus 3: Things Still Need to Change

While Buffalo is not officially eliminated from playoff contention, the loss to Nashville made it near impossible to jump either the Islanders or Panthers for a wild card spot. The Sabres fall to 2-6-2 in the last ten games, and have lost eight of their last nine games, a pitiful excuse for “meaningful games” in March.

If Buffalo’s defensive awareness looked like that against the Predators, it’s hard to think it would be a good idea to put Devon Levi in net this season, even if he is an upgrade over the three options we currently have. Postgame, Granato said that the team was “playing with anxiety” and “not handling the pressure well”, something that would certainly be amplified if the supposed upcoming franchise goaltender were to take the net.

Earlier in the season it felt like the Sabres were on the brink of a playoff berth, and had minimal changes that needed to be done to the roster. Where we’re at now, however, feels like a completely different team that not only needs changes on offense and defense, but also more time for young players development than maybe anticipated. Even with players such as Power, Quinn, Peterka and others getting another full offseason under their belts, Buffalo can’t afford to trot out the exact same roster next year and expect consistent results after watching performances like the one against Nashville.

How many games should the Sabres give Levi the rest of the season?

A few (1-3)143
Start him the rest of the way41

Final Thoughts

If there were any positives to take away from Tuesday’s game, a few milestones were hit for Sabres players. While Thompson continued his quest for 50 goals, notching his 43rd on the season, Skinner also scored his 30th goal, along with Dahlin reaching 50 assists.

JJ Peterka also continues to be one of the only offensive players standing out on a nightly basis, as his speed and decisiveness on the ice seems to have reached a higher level compared to previously before his benching.

Lost in the chaos of the game, it was also nice to see a familiar face in Rasmus Asplund playing for the Predators, after being traded from Buffalo around the deadline. While he didn’t register a point in his team’s win, he was out on the ice at the end of the game as the Sabres goalie was pulled, with the Nashville coaching staff seemingly giving him a chance to score against his old team.

The Sabres next opponent will be the Devils at home on Friday, March 24th, as it will be the first game of a back-to-back to kick off the weekend. Puck drop will be at 7:00 pm ET.