OPINION: Three observations: Sabres battle back, but can't get anything going late

Buffalo generates just two shots on goal in the third period

The Buffalo Sabres struck first in Thursday night's contest against the New Jersey Devils at KeyBank Center, but it would be the only lead the Sabres would enjoy for the duration of the game.

The Devils scored on consecutive power plays and extended their lead late in the first period, but the Sabres were able to battle back in the second to tie things up at 3-3. Unfortunately for Buffalo, they couldn't generate any form of offense in the final period in a 6-3 loss.

Let's take a look at three observations from Thursday's game:

1.) Penalty kill allows Devils back into game early

The Devils were down early, but a couple of early Sabres penalties gave the Devils some early power plays, and they completely took advantage.

First, Cody Eakin went off for a holding call on Devils forward Jesper Boqvist. 36 seconds later, Devils forward Pavel Zacha got New Jersey on the board to tie things up.

Less than a minute after scoring their first goal, the Sabres had an opportunity in the Devils zone, with Tage Thompson having difficulty with a pass in the slot. He lost the puck and chased Michael McLeod behind the net and took a holding penalty.

It took Pavel Zacha 44 seconds into that power play opportunity to pick up his second goal of the game to put the Devils ahead.

The Devils would get two more opportunities with the man advantage, but the Sabres managed to kill off both penalties.

Still, the penalty killing unit, which started off strong to begin the season, continues to show cracks in the foundation. Coming into the night, the Sabres were 16th in penalty killing percentage at 79.2%, but the Sabres allow the fourth-most unblocked shot attempts in the NHL, according to Evolving Hockey.

2.) Thompson continues to be an up-and-down player

Sabres forward Tage Thompson has had a tumultuous career since his trade to the Sabres. After a disastrous first season with Buffalo, followed by some success with the Rochester Americans in Year 2 before an injury in his first call up took him out for the rest of the season, Thompson expected to be a bigger piece in the lineup after signing a three-year deal in the offseason.

This year, the Sabres have been taking the good with the bad.

Despite scoring on the power play late in the second period, there were quite a few plays that make you want a little more from Thompson.

On his penalty, Thompson had a great chance in the slot off a great pass from behind the net by Rasmus Asplund, but he couldn't quite control the puck. He chased McLeod behind the net and took a penalty. If Thompson is able to get a shot off, it forces Devils goaltender Aaron Dell to make a difficult save on a point-blank shot.

Later in the period, Sabres forward Casey Mittelstadt did a great job entering the zone on a 2-on-2 rush. Mittelstadt skated himself into some space and a good passing lane to send a pass to a streaking Thompson to the front of the net. However, Thompson couldn't kick the puck up to his stick in time to get a shot off.

While he scored on the power play, Thompson's 5-on-5 play continues to leave more to be desired. Thompson had an expected goals percentage of just 18.23% in Thursday's game, but the Sabres didn't allow any goals-against with him on the ice. Still, the expected goals percentage indicates that teams have more opportunities to score against the Sabres with Thompson on the ice.

3.) Sabres take just two shots in the third period

Coming out to play the second period, the Sabres struggled to generate shots against the Devils, but later found their game and found their way back to tie the score at 3-3 heading into the third period. A brand new game.

Through the first 10 minutes of the period, the Sabres generated just one shot on goal. By the time the game ended, they increased that amount by just one. They took just seven shot attempts to the Devils' 20.

For a team that only needed to score once in the final 20 minutes, the Sabres were not able to do the one thing that enabled them to do that.

Sabres interim head coach Don Granato held an optional practice on Wednesday, and also held an optional morning skate for the players on Thursday after their Tuesday night win against the Devils. Granato indicated in his postgame comments the decision was likely a mistake, but he wanted to give the Sabres some well-earned rest after their most recent stretch of play, along with a five-game point streak.


The Sabres will have to have a short memory after Thursday's loss, because the Washington Capitals will be bringing their talents to Buffalo on Friday night at KeyBank Center.

Coverage of Friday's contest starts at 6 p.m. ET with the Paul William Beltz Pregame Show hosted by the Bulldog. Faceoff is scheduled to take place just after 7 p.m. ET on the flagship station of the Sabres - WGR Sports Radio 550.

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