OPINION: Sabres play second dud Monday game in-a-row, losing to Panthers

Head coach Don Granato says Ukko-Pekka Luukkonen is now the team's No. 1 goalie

Buffalo, N.Y. (WGR 550) – The Buffalo Sabres were just out of energy on Monday, and gave the Florida Panthers a pretty easy 4-1 win.

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Just five-and-a-half minutes into the game, the shots were 10-2 Florida, and former Sabres defenseman Brandon Montour had given his team a 1-0 lead.

After the game, Sabres head coach Don Granato didn't mince words, saying his team lacked energy and intensity.

“We didn’t have the emotional energy that we had," said Granato during his postgame comments. "I thought from the outset, you’re hoping that something will start a fire, you’re hoping you score early. But we hit a post and lacked energy. Anything you want to speak of after that can be related to that.”

Granato mentioned the only player going, and going well was Kyle Okposo, who hit that post in the opening period. I thought in the first period, Rasmus Asplund was just as good.

Teams have been covering Tage Thompson all season, and he’s been able to beat it. However, he just hasn’t been himself recently. He has one point in his last three games, and just two points in his last five.

Alex Tuch didn’t like the way he and his linemates - Thompson and Jeff Skinner - played in Monday's game. Tuch scored the team’s only goal in the third period, but by then, he was on a line with Okposo and Tyson Jost.

Using a term Granato likes, the team tried to pass the puck into the net, giving up several great scoring opportunities on odd-man rushes to pass to covered guys.

To show you how off Skinner was, he was set up all alone in front of Panthers goalie Sergei Bobrovsky and didn’t even shoot. He took the puck behind the net, and the play was killed there.

The Sabres didn’t back off the physical part of the game, and actually took some penalties from the aggressive plays. These two teams just don’t like each other, but I think the Sabres got way too preoccupied with it.

Ukko-Pekka Luukkonen was good again in goal, stopping 30-of-33 shots he faced. He was the reason the final score wasn’t higher than 4-1.

I think we all knew Luukkonen is now the Sabres' No. 1 goalie, but before the game, Granato confirmed it.

“He’s in a rhythm, and over the last little bit, he’s shown us that," Granato said. "If the three guys are ready, the edge is to him right now.

“He’s been in a groove, he’s been winning games. So today’s decision, based on winning, he’s the guy.”

Since Dec. 4, Luukkonen is 9-3-0 with a 3.14 goals-against average and a .908 save percentage, although he’s lost two of his last three games. Other than the wins, those aren't great numbers. However, he seems more confident in the net. He doesn’t get a lot of help defensively, and he tends to make the big save at the big time.

Granato also announced that after missing two games, Peyton Krebs will be back in the lineup on Tuesday in Chicago against the Blackhawks. Since I doubt Luukkonen will play on back-to-back nights, I would guess to make room, Luukkonen will go back to Rochester.

Ilya Lyubushkin’s penalties have become a problem for this team. The 28-year-old defensemen has missed 14 games due to injury, and he looks to me, like he’s still playing hurt. In Nashville against the Predators on Saturday, Lyubushkin put the Sabres shorthanded twice, and that was coming off a stretch where he took penalties in four of six games, including two penalties taken in Vegas against the Golden Knights.

For me, it’s putting the team in bad spots. They’re 26th in the NHL in penalty killing, and Granato realizes what’s happening.

“It depends if they score on them, but yes, he plays an aggressive game," Granato said of Lyubushkin. "Even early in the year, there’s some penalties with aggression, and I think with 'Boosh', there’s definitely penalties with each player that you want back. Jost had a really bad one late in a game, and that happens. Emotions get the best of guys. There’s so much that goes into it. So do we want them to reduce penalties? Absolutely. But there’s lot of components that go into that than just saying that this guy takes bad penalties.”

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This was a costly loss, as Florida is now back in front of the Sabres in the standings. This means there are now three teams to leap over to get a playoff spot.

The New York Islanders lost to the Washington Capitals on Monday in overtime, so they're six points ahead of the Sabres, with Buffalo holding three games in-hand.

Games in-hand really don’t matter all that much. What matters is taking care of your own business, and the Sabres haven’t been doing that, picking up two of their last 10 points. Four of those losses came at home, and that’s the reason they’re not a playoff team.

You can’t lose 14 out of 23 games at home and expect to play in the postseason.

Photo credit Losi and Gangi
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