Statistically speaking, the Buffalo Sabres are having a nightmarish season. They entered this game ranking last in the NHL in the following categories: goals scored per game, shots taken per game, shots allowed per game and faceoff percentage.
But on this night, the Sabres didn’t look like the team that matched those dubious numbers. Maybe they’d gained confidence from having won five of their previous six. Perhaps they knew they’d have to play a solid defensive game against the Lightning, the highest scoring team in the league. Whatever the reason, the Sabres defended the Bolts tenaciously all night. They fought for contested pucks. They blocked lots of shots. And, for a good portion of the game, they didn’t allow the Lightning much room to skate.
So let’s give some credit to the Sabres and the effort they put forth in this game. But the Lightning, as has been the case in several of the second half of back-to-backs, did not put forth a full 60-minute performance. (They are now 2-3-1 in those second games). Their second period was strong – they fired 16 shots on Jhonas Enroth in the frame – and generated a number of good scoring chances. But they managed only nine total shots in the first and third periods combined. In those periods, they just weren’t able to get their game into high gear (even though they scored their lone goal in the third).
Still, the Lightning defended reasonably well throughout the night – and when they had breakdowns, Evgeni Nabokov provided key saves. That helped them keep the Sabres off the board until the late stages of the third period.
But faceoffs were a problem for the Lightning in this game – they won only 42 percent – and a lost defensive zone faceoff led directly to Buffalo’s tying goal.
In the closing seconds, Steven Stamkos nearly won it for the Lightning, but his left circle shot clanged off the post. After a scoreless overtime, the Sabres converted on both their shootout attempts, helping them bank the extra point.
The teams will meet again on Thursday in Tampa. The Lightning will need to improve upon several areas, such as faceoffs. But just as importantly, the Lightning will need to play their game – and do it throughout the game.
Lightning Radio Big Moment of the Game (as selected by Bobby “The Chief” Taylor):
Zemgus Girgensons’ tying goal, which came with just under four minutes left in the third.
Lightning Radio Three Stars of the Game (as selected by Bobby “The Chief” Taylor):
1.Jhonas Enroth – Sabres. 26 saves, plus two stops in the shootout.
2.Zemgus Girgensons – Sabres – Tying goal.
3.Evgeni Nabokov – Lightning. 21 saves.