OPINION: Three observations: Sabres somehow salvage point in loss to Rangers

A late Tage Thompson goal helps Buffalo earn a point

After the first period of Thursday night's game, it seemed like the Buffalo Sabres were going to continue their success from the previous night against the Philadelphia Flyers.

After New York Rangers forward Mika Zibanejad scored the game-winner in overtime, it was clear something much different happened.

The Sabres were hoping to get a small winning streak going after Wednesday night's win, but instead, Buffalo will carry a three-game point streak into their next game against the Rangers on Saturday.

Let's take a look at three observations from the Rangers' 3-2 overtime win over the Sabres:

1.) Sabres' strong start was encouraging after one period

It was only one period, but if people were hoping Buffalo could continue their strong play from their win over the Flyers, it had to be encouraging to see the Sabres flying.

Buffalo came out of the first period with seven high-danger scoring chances taken, as opposed to the Rangers' two. The Sabres did a good job of keeping up with the Rangers' speed.

Sabres forward Jeff Skinner made one of the better plays in the first period, carrying the puck into the Rangers' zone and threw a no-look pass back to the open point, which only defenseman Rasmus Dahlin occupied.

You can clearly hear Skinner telling Dahlin to shoot, which he did. Rangers goaltender Igor Shesterkin made the initial save, but a scrum ensued in front of the net to get a stick on the rebound. It was Sabres forward Rasmus Asplund who finally found the puck, or a Rangers defenseman, and ended up pushing the puck into the net one way or the other.

2.) The second period was the anti-first period

Whatever success the Sabres had in the first period generating chances and shots completely evaporate over the final 40 minutes of the game, starting in the second period.

The Sabres opened the period with time left on a power play from a Rangers penalty taken in previous period. They were able to get off two shot attempts, one of which hit the net. From there, the Sabres did not even attempt a shot at 5-on-5 until, at least, the 10-minute mark of the period.

Buffalo could not generate any sort of offense at 5-on-5, only taking three shot attempts, as opposed to the Rangers' 21 in the second period.

3.) Eakin line against Panarin line was a disaster

The Sabres have routinely committed to matching up the Cody Eakin line against the top lines of their other opponents, and it hasn't fared all that well for them.

Eakin was the forward most often matched up against Rangers forwards Artemi Panarin, Ryan Strome, and Zibanejad on Thursday night.

While Eakin was on the ice for Rasmus Asplund's first period goal, it wasn't his normal line out there scoring. Ultimately, with Eakin out on the ice along with Sabres forwards Steven Fogarty and Tobias Rieder, they got completely shelled by the Rangers in both shot attempts and expected goals.

If not for the strong play of Dustin Tokarski in net for the Sabres, we're likely talking about more Rangers goals and this game doesn't make it to overtime.

While Eakin leads the Sabres in faceoff percentage, his edge there hasn't quite washed out the fact that Eakin is the second-worst forward among Sabres with at least 300 minutes played in goals-against while he's on the ice, allowing 3.07 goals per-60 minutes. In terms of expected goals-against, he is a team-worst with 2.93 per-60 minutes.

If we extend this out to the entire NHL, the picture does not get a tiny bit rosier.

The 3.07 goals-against per-60 minutes the Sabres allow with Eakin on the ice is the 41st-worst mark in the league among the 303 forwards who have played at least 300 minutes. Eakin's expected goals-against per-60 minutes (2.93) is the second-worst amount among fowards in the NHL (Jets forward Blake Wheeler is the worst in this metric.)

For a player that doesn't really provide offense (Eakin ranks 273rd out of 303 forwards who have played 300 miuntes in goals-for per-60 and 291st of the same sample of players in expected goals-for per-60), the insistence of both former coach Ralph Krueger and interim head coach Don Granato to play Eakin in a shutdown role is a head-scratcher.


The Sabres will have Friday off from game action before they prepare for a second game against the Rangers on Saturday night at KeyBank Center.

We'll get things started with the Paul William Beltz Pregame Show hosted by Brian Koziol at 6 p.m. ET. That'll take you up to the 7 p.m. ET game time on the flagship station of the Sabres - WGR Sports Radio 550.

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