Game Preview: Buffalo Sabres @ Tampa Bay Lightning
Tonight the Sabres continue their trip through the sunshine state with a tilt against the Tampa Bay Lightning. After the atrocity that was last night’s game, the Sabres currently sit at 10th in the east with a record of 13-5-4. Tampa, with their record of 17-10-4, are currently 7th in the east. The Lightning have won two straight.
The Sabres last game was a horrid loss to the Florida Panthers. Panthers forward Marty Reasoner netted two straight goals after Bryan McCabe opened the scoring. Things didn’t get much better for the Sabres in a game that saw Ryan Miller chased from goal after allowing four goals in the first period. The final tally ended up with a score of 6-2. The Panthers did a great job of sharing the wealth, with three separate players getting two assists. The Sabres did a great job of playing like crap, with only players ending the night with +/- above zero and three separate players at -3.
Tampa Bay’s last game, however, was a much different style of game. The Lightning took on the Atlanta Thrashers last Wednesday in a very close game. After Rich Peverly potted a goal towards the end of the first or Atlanta, it took a whole period until Tampa’s Sean Bergenheim tied the score late in the second. The game stayed at a gridlock all the way through the third period and overtime until Victor Hedman scored the lone shootout goal to eventually win the game for the Lightning. Goalie Mike Smith stopped every shootout attempt, much to the dismay of his (financially sound) counterpart Dan Ellis.
Let’s take a look at who is Hot and who is Not for these teams:
Derek Roy – Roy has had quite a successful season thus far despite the lack of success from the players around him. Amidst the mediocrity of this Sabres team, Roy has been a points machine this season. Throughout 32 games this year, Roy leads all Sabres players with 33 points. The next closest person is Thomas Vanek at 25. Roy’s 23 assists are good for number one on the team and his 10 goals put him at second. In the last three games, Roy has five points. Of those five points, four of them were assists, including an assist on every goal in Drew Stafford’s hat trick two games ago. Roy’s lone goal within the aforementioned set of five came last night against the Panthers. I guess someone has to be doing something for this team.
Tampa Bay Lightning:
Steven Stamkos – Stamkos, a former #1 overall pick, has proven the past two seasons why he deserves such high accolades. On a more recent scale, Stamkos has netted at least one goal in two of the past three games with four points in that span. Couple that with the fact that Stammer has a history of playing well against the Sabres (he scored his first career NHL goals here) and well… You get the point. Look out for Steve Stamkos tonight, he’ll be like a Shark to blood in water against this weak Sabres defense.
THE ENTIRE TEAM’S ABILITY TO PLAY DEFENSE. SERIOUSLY. – The Sabres have been horrid on the back check as of late and it’s come back to kill us on numerous occasions. Last it was especially apparent on the penalty kill. At one point, every player on the ice was committed to the offensive zone in an attempt to get some offense going. The problem with this, however, is that no one was back to play defense when the puck was turned over. Eventually, the puck squirted out of the zone on the stick of a Florida Panther causing a three on one against Buffalo. In a last ditch attempt to get back, Jordan Leopold interfered with a Panthers forward thus drawing another penalty before the current penalty was even over. Three seconds later the Panthers scored (on the aforementioned three on one). Because of Leopold’s penalty, the Sabres were forced to stay on the penalty kill. What caused all of this? The team’s inability to play conservative offense and a lack of acknowledgment for the defensive aspect of the game. Situations like this are what have been killing the Sabres throughout the season. Couple this with a lack of fundamentals and horrible passing and it is easy to see how the Sabres have allowed 13 goals the past three games.
Tampa Bay Lightning:
Mike Smith – Tampa has had high expectations for this netminder for the past few seasons. Unfortunately, Smith has never quite been able to rise up and meet these expectations. This has been especially apparent this season given Smith’s numbers. Smith is in the bottom 5 for the league for Goals Against Average and is second worst in league for Save Percentage. It should be noted that the only goalie in the NHL that has a worse Save Percentage than Smith is his partner Dan Ellis. Woah there Lightning goalies, don’t overwhelm us.
After getting chased at the end of the first, Sabres goalie Ryan Miller gets the start tonight. Look for Miller to correct the mistake that was last night. Hell hath no rath like a Miller scorned. After all, he is The Man, The Myth, The Miller (man it feels good to say that, it’s been far too long).
The aforementioned cluster-suck on skates that is Mike Smith will get the start between the pipes for the Lightning. Smith has split time with Dan Ellis all season so look for him to fight for every minute of ice time tonight. Also, despite the woeful stats I mentioned earlier Smith is coming off a one goal performance last Wednesday.
Game starts at 7:30 and as usual is on MSG.