The Buffalo Sabres have earned 13 points in 13 games, but man, those shootouts . . . .
If you managed to stay awake for the snoozefest that was the Buffalo Sabres – Ottawa Senators game Wednesday, you got to experience the ecstasy and agony of Sabres hockey.
First, you witnessed a five-minute overtime period in which the Sabres thoroughly outplayed the Senators. There’s no other way to describe it: OT was not even close, as Buffalo outshot the visitors 8-0 and were a crossbar away from winning the game:
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That is the LITERAL definition of a shot on goal, folks. The people who work for the NHL should have called that video “Crossbar’s OT stop,” because Condon had nothing to do with Zemgus Girgenson getting robbed. Tough break, Z.
Of course, Buffalo was unable to take advantage of a tired Senators squad and their back-of-a-backup goaltender Mike Condon, so the game headed into a shootout . . . at which point most of the people watching at home turned off their televisions, in order to spare themselves from the inevitable heartbreak.
There are three certainties in life right about now: death, taxes and the Buffalo Sabres will lose if the game heads to a shootout. The Sabres are now 0-2 on the season, having lost to the Philadelphia Flyers in a shootout after the team unveiled its “So bad it’s great” overtime strategy of passing the puck back to Robin Lehner. (I’m still disappointed this has yet to catch on across the league.)
Worse, the team is 2-9 from the beginning of the 2015-16 season to the present, and with Jack Eichel out of the lineup, that number will almost certainly get worse before it gets better. Strange, as the Sabres were actually one of the NHL’s best teams in the shootout back in 2014-15, when the team went 8-5 in the format. Of course, that was the ONLY thing the Sabres did well during that season, but still, when that squad headed into the shootout, fans actually had a reason to keep watching.
Not so any more!
So what is holding the Sabres back in the shootout? For starters, the Buffalo Sabres currently lack players who can finish. Look: the fact that the Sabres skated circles around the Senators in OT, outshot them 8-0, and STILL had to go to a shootout should tell you that much. For the past two seasons, at least, the Sabres have made losing by one goal their Modus Operandi, establishing themselves as good enough to compete, just not good enough to win. Sometimes the Sabres lose because they get outshot miserably, but even when the Sabres fire rubber bullets at opposing goalies, few if any actually find the back of the net. This team is still looking for the sort of pure scorers you need to finish, whether it’s regulation, OT or the shootout.
Not helping matters is the fact that Robin Lehner, who has been absolutely locked-in the past two weeks, falls apart when it comes to the shootout. Lehner allowed both Senators shooters to score on him, and while neither goal was pretty, Lehner allowed Bobby Ryan to absolutely abuse him:
I was glad to see the Buffalo Sabres go on the offensive in overtime, and the results speak for themselves. Given their lack of finishers at forward, and the fact that the shootout appears to be Lehner’s kryptonite, I expect to see a focused Sabres team each and every overtime session from here on out.