It’s borderline preposterous to summarize a hockey team based on a mere six games of work, but there’s a few things about the Buffalo Sabres that are becoming glaringly obvious.
Forget an offense that has recurrently sputtered. First and foremost, they are deplorable defensively and at times flat-out listless in their own end of the rink. It cost them dearly Tuesday night, losing in overtime to the Toronto Maple Leafs, 4-3 on an inexcusable goal by Matt Frattin just 1.5 seconds before what would’ve been a shootout at the First Niagara Center.
Frattin skated around, past and through Jordan Leopold to lift a puck over Ryan Miller’s shoulder just inside the goal post. If you’re a Sabres fans who watched the game, you were probably screeching through your television set at Leopold to tackle Frattin as if he was Jairus Byrd —the game was less than two seconds from going to a shootout. Would a penalty have hurt his team’s chances of earning two points?
Miller has put up solid numbers so far in five starts, but he’s let in his fair amount of soft goals. At the very least he’s surrendering too many chunky rebounds. Three of Toronto’s four goals on the night were on pucks that should’ve been stopped, regardless of who made defensive mistakes in front of him.
Much to his credit, Miller acknowledged his dreadful evening in the locker room following the overtime loss.
“I gave him (Frattin) room,” Miller said. “He was coming off the angle with pressure. I gave him too much room and just made a poor choice. I just really didn’t feel like I gave the guys too much help, tonight anyways.” You get three goals and you carry the play, you should probably have the lead. I’ve got to make more saves. I just didn’t have it tonight.”
Buffalo is now winless in four straight after winning their first two to start the season.
“We’ve got to try and limit those rush opportunities and not hand them any free opportunities and we did at times,” Sabres captain Jason Pominville said. “I think for the most part there’s a lot of good things to take out of this game. We created a lot more offensively than we did in the past. Again, we’ve just got to bare down on some of the opportunities we give and it might be a different game.”
Pominville and Andrej Sekera scored Buffalo’s first two goals and 18-year rookie Mikhail Grigorenko scored the first goal of his career that eventually sent the game into overtime.
A bit of a defensive breakdown between Tyler Myers and Leopold led to Toronto opening the scoring at 9:25 of the first when Jay McClement took a rebound following a shot off the crossbar that Miller missed with his glove and deposited the puck in the net.
“I just missed it—it was stupid.” Miller said.
Buffalo tied it up on the power play 3:19 later after a penalty to Mike Brown for boarding Patrick Kaleta. After a horrific beginning to a sloppy man advantage that nearly got the Sabres booed out of their building, Pominville picked up a loose puck and roofed a wrist shot over the glove of James Reimer for his fourth goal of the year.
The Sabres took what would be their only lead, 2-1 early in the second on a beautiful pass from Drew Stafford to defensemen Sekera, who snuck in from the blue line undetected and put a backhand over Reimer.
It didn’t long for Toronto to even things up. Miller made a pad save on a shot by Cody Franson but the puck came right to Matt Frattin, who tucked home the rebound at 3:40.
Grigorenko didn’t get sent down to the juniors this morning following his fifth game with Buffalo Sunday, meaning the 18-year old is likely here for the rest of the season.
He may have wished he was back in Quebec after the game’s first 40 minutes.
Grigorenko lost a face off in the second and Buffalo never gained control of the puck. It led to a shot from inside the blue line from Franson that got past a partially screened Miller at 6:21, putting Toronto back on top, 3-2.
Grigorenko was on the ice for all three Toronto goals through the first two periods and barely over the last 13 minutes of the second.
But he was far from done on the night.
Desperate for offense, Grigorenko was back on a regular shift in the third period and quickly rewarded Lindy Ruff for his faith, tying the game at 3-3. On the goal, Grigorenko pulled a blind backhand between Reimer’s legs on a rebound from a blast by Mike Weber.
The tally would be the last of regulation as the teams headed to overtime.
A shootout seemed to be a certainty after a mostly cautious overtime until Frattin’s shocker.
It certainly took some steam from Grigorenko’s big moment.
“I was happy when I scored my first goal,” Grigorenko said. “It was really emotional but I really wish we could’ve won this game. It would’ve been a great night for me.”
Buffalo doesn’t have a lot of time to sulk. They travel to face their rival Boston Bruins on Thursday night and they’ll be missing toughness from the lineup with Kaleta certain to be out. Ruff said during his post-game presser that Kaleta was at the hospital as a precaution for his neck after being hit into the boards by Mike Brown in the first period.
John Scott, be ready—Thursday is why Darcy Regier signed you.
GAME NEWS & NOTES
♦ Weber didn’t take long to make his presence felt physically in his first game of the season. After Mike Brown drilled Patrick Kaleta from behind into the boards late in the first period, Weber made a beeline for Brown and dropped the gloves. Weber didn’t do a lot of damage during the fight, but surely earned some respect from his teammates and the First Niagara Center crowd. Kaleta immediately left for the locker room and didn’t return to action.
♦ Jochen Hecht may be a veteran leader of the team, but he didn’t’ act like it late in the second period. Hecht got a much-deserved roughing penalty and compounded it with an extra two for unsportsmanlike conduct. It was the second time already this season Buffalo earned an extra two minutes for going overboard in protest of a called penalty—not exactly the mark of a well-disciplined team. Fortunately for Hecht his selfish penalty didn’t result in a Toronto goal.
♦ Thomas Vanek returned to the lineup after missing Sunday’s game with a back muscle strain. Weber and T.J. Brennan made their first starts of the season. Robyn Regehr was out with a lower body injury while Nathan Gerbe and Alexander Sulzer were healthy scratches.
♦ Buffalo has struggled heavily on face offs so far this season and Lindy Ruff turned to Steve Ott to help. It worked—Ott won 12 of 13 draws through the first two periods and finished the night winning 16 of 19. You can bet the house he’ll be taking plenty of draws in the foreseeable future.
Overall Buffalo won the face off battle over an opponent for the first time this season, 33-32.
♦ The Sabres outshot Toronto, 32-24.
♦ Former Canisius College star Cory Conacher continues to tear it up for Tampa Bay. The rookie scored a goal and assist in a win over Florida Tuesday night and now has three goals and nine points in his first six games.