Buffalo, N.Y. (WGR 550) – With one game in nine days, it absolutely showed during Thursday’s loss to the San Jose Sharks.
The Buffalo Sabres came out flat and, as Jeff Skinner said, with no urgency. Because of it, they were down 3-0 just 17:24 into the game. Head coach Don Granato said he really pushed the players at the end of the period, because he didn’t think they were competing hard enough.
The team was sloppy, and the mistakes and judgments were plentiful, as they hung Ukko-Pekka Luukkonen out to dry.
I think one key thing that you must keep in mind is the Sabres are missing nine players due to injury or the NHL's COVID-19 protocols. That certainly matters. This organization doesn't have enough depth to be able to survive that.
With that being said, they let a goaltender with a .897 save percentage off the hook until the final seven or eight minutes of the game. Adin Hill was hardly tested, as the Sabres shot right at him and got no traffic around him, making it a very easy game for him.
Skinner’s second period goal was pretty much the only dangerous chance the Sabres created in the first 40 minutes, as some of the things I was watching were concerning. First, players weren't around the net, making it easy for Hill. Second, I watched too many players turn off battles, making things pretty easy on the Sharks. That’s the way this team used to play, and it usually doesn’t under Granato.
You can't come in on the forecheck and do a drive-by past the defenseman.
Buffalo had more shots in the third period than the Sharks had for the game, but, as previously mention, it wasn’t until the final seven or eight minutes where they made it tough on Hill. One such play was on a 6-on-4 power play when Tage Thompson ripped a one-timer off the post. Zemgus Girgensons was right at the net to convert the rebound, and give the Sabres a chance late.
Thompson was right at the net as time was running out and a puck came out to him, but it was bouncing and he couldn’t get control with half an empty net yawing at him.
I really like the way Luukkonen was mentally tough after the first period. I also liked how Granato left him in the game to start the second period. He had given up three goals, but he didn’t let it bother him and he slammed the door the rest of the way.
He got called upon right away in the second, as Alexander Barabanov came flying around the defense and Luukkonen, somehow, got a toe on, what looked like, a sure goal.
Lately, Granato has been using every chance he gets to sing the praises of Rasmus Dahlin. In this game, he and Henri Jokiharju combined for another strong outing. Dahlin played a total of 28:47, while Jokiharju played 22:50.
After the game, as he has all week, he brought up Dahlin without being asked.
“It was a spectacular, spectacular game by Dahlin, and he was a guy I mentioned at the end of the first to the rest of the team, one guy, just watch that guy. Absolutely amazing," Granato said of his fourth-year defenseman. "When something goes wrong, he elevates and he’s fearless. We played with too much fear in the first period.”
I asked Granato why they were able to get more pucks at Hill in the third period, and he went right back to Dahlin and he was angry. This is where it became evident that he’s tired of the criticism this 21-year-old gets.
“I pointed out Dahlin after the first period to the rest of the team, and I pointed out what I love watching that guy play. It’s fearless," Granato said. "You guys even in this room call him out for every damn mistake the guy makes, and he goes out there every game fearless, no hesitation. That’s why he’s a hell of a player now, and that’s why he’s going to become a better player every day.”
Granato said the Sharks backed off defensively when Dahlin had the puck with five guys paying attention to him.
With wins a few weeks ago in Winnipeg and Minnesota, it looked like this team was turning a corner. However, COVID-19 has taken too many out of the lineup, and they’ve lost five-straight games since.
Buffalo has only won two of its last 14 games, and three of its last 19. It’ll be interesting to see if they can start getting results once the players in COVID-19 protocols come back.