It was like day and night for fans of the home Buffalo Sabres in their game against the Boston Bruins. At one point, they sarcastically cheered when the team managed to cross the blue line and enter Boston’s zone. They booed their team off the ice when they were down 2-1 at the end of two periods. But when the Sabres pulled out a 4-2 win thanks to an absolute defensive deflation by Boston in the third period, suddenly they were cheering like they’d just won the Stanley Cup.
Boston’s innovative strategy of never playing with the lead was in effect once more as Drew Stafford scored his first of the season less than four minutes into the first period. In perhaps the one bright spot of the night, Dougie Hamilton did get his very first NHL goal. It was also on the power play and it was a beauty. He’ll remember that one–too bad his teammates couldn’t help him by letting that first-goal game be a win.
In fact, Hamilton had his second multi-point game ever when he helped out on Rich Peverley‘s goal to give the Bruins a lead that they managed to hold for basically all of the second period. That was the time when the Sabres faithful booed their team off the ice and it looked like the Bruins could hold on and win this thing if they played like the famously strong third period Bruins they’ve been before.
Well, except that apparently they forget how to do that when they’re playing the Sabres because, of the third-period goals they’ve allowed this season, all but one of them have been given up to Buffalo. It’s hard to explain and even harder when they collapsed like a badly-made souffle in the final period of this game. The Sabres put up three unanswered goals, their fans remembered how to cheer again and they nabbed two points from the occasion–with the in-house DJ playing “Sweet Caroline” as if to rub the salt in Boston’s wounds a little more.
Playing from behind, defensemen who look like statues and merrily watch the puck fly behind their goalie, only having led games for a little more than a quarter of the time they’ve played so far this season–these aren’t the big bad Bruins. They’re not hitting as hard, they’re not making their presence known and sure, they’ve been managing to scrape together wins and getting lucky, but they should not really be happy with that.
Maybe this game will serve as a turning point. It is only the first point on a five-stop road trip, after all, and there are quite a few off-days coming up that could help them try to get better. But I’m really concerned about the defensive strategy, especially the play of Adam McQuaid and Andrew Ference. Ference, who should be auditioning for a new deal because he’s becoming a free agent this summer, has been steadily bad this season and has a -3 rating to his name. In something that would look better and be a lot funnier in a cartoon, he and McQuaid collided with each other, helping to open up Stafford’s scoring opportunity. That is kind of just Boston’s defense in a nutshell right now.
Next up for the Bruins is a trip up north of the border to the Winnipeg Jets for a game at 6 p.m. Eastern on Feb. 17.