Another day, another shootout loss for the Buffalo Sabres. The Sabres lost to the Washington Capitals in a 4-3 shootout with the Capitals winning all three matchups the teams have had this season. The Sabres have now lost three consecutive one goal games, including the past two in shootout fashion, to teams that had either equal or fewer points in the standings. The win for the Capitals allowed them to surpass the Sabres in the Eastern Conference standings. When coupled with the recent trade of Jordan Leopold, the Sabres must believe that their flickering playoff hopes have recently been extinguished.
Despite getting two goals from recently returned forward Ville Leino, the Sabres could not maintain a 3-1 lead throughout the third period. An inexcusable shorthanded goal from Troy Brouwer near three minutes into the final period started the scoring off and Mike Green netted the game tying goal with a mere 40 seconds left in regulation. The Capitals scored on their first two shootout chances, one of which came from Alex Ovechkin who also scored the Capitals’ first goal, while the Sabres missed both of theirs. Even though the Sabres’ current backup goalie, Jhonas Enroth, allowed three goals, he also stopped 35 shots.
The Sabres’ loss continued to highlight their shortcomings from this year. Brouwer’s shorthanded goal added onto the dubious distinction of having the most shorthanded goals against for the entire NHL this season. The defense and lack of puck possession also reared its ugly head as there was a 15 shot disparity between the two teams, with Capitals goalie Braden Holtby only having to face a total of 23 shots.
It is clear the Sabres just don’t have the mojo required to be a playoff contending team in what will become yet another disappointing season for Sabres fans. While it is good to see Leino scoring, the Sabres continue to receive very little consistency from players like Tyler Ennis and Tyler Myers, which have done very little to improve upon their great rookie seasons over the past couple years. The Sabres seem to be forever waiting for these young prospects to finally blossom into franchise cornerstones.
The writing seems to be on the wall for this Sabres squad and the front office knows it. Instead of receiving a current NHL player from the St. Louis Blues in the aforementioned Leopold trade, GM Darcy Regier received two draft picks. The 32 year old Leopold, when healthy, was one of the more stable defensemen for the Sabres this year. It will be interesting to see who else may be moving from Buffalo before the trade deadline on April 3. Meanwhile, the Capitals are now a point ahead of the Sabres, keeping the their playoff hopes alive.
I believe the Sabres should retain coach Ron Rolston for next season despite his seeming lack of results since taking over. Rolston is a guy that knows how to develop young talent and it seems like the Sabres are going to be reworking the team towards acquiring more prospects and young players. However, Rolston should think about changing up the system that former Sabres coach Lindy Ruff implemented after the 2004-05 NHL Lockout. Pushing the defensemen forward into the attack so much, especially with young guys that should be worrying about solidifying their defensive skill sets, has not worked very well recently. The system relies too heavily on offensive chances through breakaways and goaltending, which often results in little possession of the puck and too many shots against.