This was the most winnable game for the Buffalo Sabres out of their crucial six game stretch that began tonight. Apparently Florida teams just have the Sabres’ number this year (the Sabres lost to the Tampa Bay Lightning a couple of days ag0) as they lost in a 5-4 shootout to the Florida Panthers. The Sabres’ playoff hopes are about to be snuffed out if they can’t find themselves on the winning side of these one-goal games.
You would think the Sabres would have lost due to a lack of offensive output with Thomas Vanek out with an upper body injury, but that wasn’t the case tonight. The Sabres exploded for three goals in the second period after being shut out in the first to take a 3-2 lead. Drew Stafford had a goal and an assist in the period. Unfortunately, the Sabres couldn’t hold on to the 3-2 lead or after they retook the lead via a power play goal from Marcus Foligno to go ahead 4-3 in the third period. The Panthers tied it up in the with a power play goal of their own coming from Jonathan Huberdeau. In the fourth shootout round, Mike Santorelli scored the game winning penalty shot after Steve Ott‘s attempt was saved by Panthers goalie Jacob Markstrom.
Sabres goalie Ryan Miller, recently rumored in a trade to the Lightning, was peppered with 40 shots in the loss. Markstrom also faced 40 in a game void of defense. Unfortunately for the Sabres, Markstrom came through and Miller didn’t.
The Sabres’ much maligned defense needs some serious retooling. Supposedly they are talent rich with young prospects, in fact the Sabres traded D TJ Brennan to these very Panthers earlier in the season, but have yet to put anything substantial on the back line for the past few years. There is a disconnect here. Either the Sabres aren’t as talented as NHL analysts and personnel people believe or the coaching is not up to snuff, which does not seem possible seeing as how the Sabres just made a coaching change to Ron Rolston. Whatever the case may be, it must be rectified soon if the Sabres want to be a perennial playoff contender.
With the loss, the Sabres are only four points back of the eighth place New York Rangers for a playoff spot, but the loss to the Panthers tonight is a bad omen. Even though four of the Sabres’ next five games are back in Buffalo, all but one are against opponents currently in the playoffs. It is do or die time, but by the trade deadline, which is three games away, the Sabres should know whether they will be buyers or sellers. Although should the Sabres really be buyers so they can try and just squeak into the eighth seed?