In a game that varied between “night and day” amongst the three periods of play, the Buffalo Sabres were unable to outplay the Florida Panthers at HSBC Arena, resulting in a tough 4-3 home loss.
The reason? An awful first period where the Sabres might as well have been invisible or just plain non-existent.
Defenseman Tyler Myers explained, “We need to play the full 60…and play the way we did in the second and third. Our second period [especially] was exactly the way we want to play as a team.”
Jordan Leopold, who registered two goals tonight, added, “We lost the game in the first period. We weren’t thinking, we weren’t skating. We need a good first period. We didn’t have [one], and there’s absolutely no excuse for that.”
In the first 20 minutes of play, Buffalo consistently came up short. The team lacked effective forechecking, strength, and all-around effort. They were sloppy, which allowed Florida skate all over them and score three goals. Not exactly the best way for the Sabres to redeem themselves from a 6-2 loss to the Panthers just last week.
Leopold and Jason Pominville each scored for the Sabres; however, Tyler Ennis did not. Ennis probably had one of his most disappointing games of the season. With multiple scoring opportunities, he just couldn’t manage to put one past Florida goaltender Tomas Vokoun no matter how hard he tried. Next time, Tyler…
Florida gained the one-goal advantage just 1:10 into the opening period. Evgeny Dadonov, recently recalled from the Rochester Americans, carried the puck down into Buffalo territory and fired one on Ryan Miller. Winger Chris Higgins grabbed the rebound and blindsided the Sabres netminder for his fourth of the year. Miller immediately asked for a review, believing the goal was caused by a high stick. After a phone call with Toronto, the play was deemed a tally, and the Panthers officially held a 1-0 lead over the Sabres.
Even though they struggled with getting on the scoreboard in the first, Buffalo proved they stand as one when it comes to protecting their own. After Marty Reasoner had a minor collision with Miller, all hell broke loose. Paul Gaustad and Pat Kaleta especially took it upon themselves to send the Panthers a message that went something like, “You touch our goalie, and you will be dealt with as we see fit.”
Reasoner later explained the situation to Buffalo’s own Rob Ray. “I didn’t mean to run into him, but it usually causes a stir. It’s just one of those things.” So there you have it.
Stephen Weiss made the score 2-0 in favor of the Panthers with a five-on-three power-play goal. The player advantage was the second one of its kind in the contest, which wasn’t at all pleasing to the Sabres. The puck was passed “boom-boom-boom” between all five Panthers on the ice, with Michael Frolik dishing it to Weiss, who then put one in the wide open Buffalo net.
Higgins earned his fifth goal of the season with a backhand tally over midway through the first. Weiss picked up his second point of the game with the assist. Dadonov also helped, giving him his sixth point since being recalled a few weeks ago.
The Sabres came out stronger in the second period, gaining the shot advantage 4-0 within the first five minutes of play. One can only imagine Lindy Ruff’s locker room lecture in between stanzas. Based on HBO’s “24/7 Penguins and Capitals: Road To The Winter Classic”, one has to wonder just how many F-bombs were dropped, since it flies in both the Pittsburgh and Washington locker rooms quite regularly. According to Ray, Ruff’s rant was “way worse” than the Caps head-coach Bruce Boudreau’s fiasco on last week’s episode of the special. Whoa.
After Ennis thought he had scored a beauty (after it was waived off and checked: no goal), Leopold officially put Buffalo on the board and back in the game with his eighth of the year. The puck bounced off Vokoun’s back and in, putting the Sabres back to within two.
Pominville netted a power-play goal and earned his second point of the night 8:15 into the middle period. Pomminville took a pass from Myers and put a screen shot behind Vokoun, who most likely didn’t even see the puck at all. The goal was Pominville’s sixth of the season.
The Sabres struck yet again in the second half of the second period. “Tyler One” (Myers) slid the puck to Leopold, who then blew it by Vokoun for his second of the evening to tie the contest at three. The goal solidified that the team was finally awake and ready to play. In the middle period alone, Buffalo outshot Florida 20-2, as opposed to the Panthers’ 15-9 shot advantage in the first.
It was anyone’s game at the start of the third and final period, with both teams having had their chance to shine in the first two. For the first half, both Buffalo and Florida were fairly evenly-matched, with the Sabres edging past the Panthers in shots 8-7. But the score remained knotted at three for most of the stanza.
The tie was finally broken with about five minutes remaining in the period-just not by Buffalo. After Myers got tangled in his stick, Panther Jason Garrison gained control of the puck. In a two-on-one rush, Garrison carried it back down the ice and wristed the game-winner past Miller for his second of the year. The Sabres were unfortunately unable to respond, despite a late period power-play and an empty net, leaving the final score 4-3 Panthers.
Buffalo suffered a tough loss; however, dominating the second period as well as they did and maintaining balance in the third showed growth throughout the game. But in the end, their efforts just weren’t enough to bring home a win. Florida now advances past the Sabres in the standings, leaving Buffalo to recover over Christmas and get back on their feet for their 9:00 p.m. game against the Calgary Flames on Monday, December 27th.
Note: Team-leading scorer Derek Roy received a lower-body injury in the first period. He did not return, and will be out for an unknown amount of time.