OPINION: Sabres tighten up after first period, but it was too late

Sam Reinhart has eight goals and 10 points in his last nine games

(WGR 550) – The Buffalo Sabres were unaware and confused for just one period on Sunday, but it was too much to overcome, as they lost to the New York Rangers, 6-3.

New York is a team that is successful when it has extreme puck movement that goes north, south east and west. They certainly had that in the first period, leaving the Sabres out of position, unaware and badly confused.

It started right on New York’s first goal when the Sabres chased the Rangers into the zone and over backchecked. Mika Zibanejad took advantage by coming into the play late. Four Sabres were within 10 feet of the ne,t and he had an open lane to make it 1-0.

“They play a wide open game," said Sabres interim head coach Don Granato following the loss. "They sling pucks east-west, and it’s a different look from a coverage standpoint.”

Buffalo did get that goal back just 1:27 later when Jeff Skinner backhanded home his sixth of the season, but the next Rangers goal was just a prime example of phenomenal puck movement at top speed. By the time they were done, Kaapo Kakko sprung loose in the right wing circle wide-open with the Sabres totally unaware he was there.

Adam Fox showed why he’s the highest-scoring defenseman in the NHL this year, making a gorgeous pass on that play. Fox had three assists on the evening.

Zibanejad added a power play goal, and the Rangers left the first period with a 3-1 lead.

Just 2:05 into the second period, Jacob Bryson stepped up and then changed his mind too late, allowing Zibanejad by him and in for the hat-trick goal. Make no mistake, the puck slid under Dustin Tokarski and absolutely should’ve been stopped. The goaltender just has to bail his young defenseman out there.

Buffalo played much better defensively after that, but it was 4-1 and the damage was already done.

In the second, Buffalo outshot the Rangers, 14-7, and stopped allowing the Rangers the puck movement to pull them out of position. They made the game much easier for Tokarski, but again, it was too little, too late.

The Sabres had two-consecutive power plays in the second period and generated close to nothing for the first 3:40 of it. Victor Olofsson managed to shake loose to score on a one-timer from the slot with just six seconds left in the second man advantage.

Olofsson has been getting more chances from the middle of the ice lately, and Granato said it’s part of a team tweak they’ve made.

“We’ve talked about more movement and flow, because it’s a challenge on the power play when you go just right to your position and you go to set up before you break pressure," he said. "We’ve encouraged them to set up where you’re at. Read a play, react to a play. So we’re trying to move toward that direction, as opposed to guys moving robotically to their setup.”

Buffalo has a power play goal in four of its last six games.

Sam Reinhart had a goal and an assist, and is on a pace to score 37 goals over 82 games.

Rasmus Dahlin played a career high 27:17 in this game mainly because the Sabres were chasing the game throughout. That left only 18:32 for Rasmus Ristolainen.

Overall, the Sabres outshot the Rangers, 34-29. It was only the second time in 16 games that they outshot an opponent.

The win for the Rangers pulled them to within four points of the fourth place Boston Bruins in the East Division. The problem is Boston holds two games in-hand.

The Sabres and Rangers will finish their season series Tuesday night in New York City.

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