Sabres Special Teams weren’t so Special in Home Opener
It was the biggest opening night in Buffalo in over twenty years, a night that everyone would remember. Not only have many state of the art renovations been made to the new “First Niagara Center,” but the new owners made it a wonderful event for every fan who walked through the doors. Everything from give-aways, to a long opening ceremony that named each member of the Sabres team and staff, it was a high energy ceremony that really made you excited for the next sixty minutes of hockey.
There has been a stigma in Buffalo about the Carolina Hurricanes since the conference finals in the 2006 playoffs. While the Sabres have of course beaten them since the Eastern Conference finals, however tonight was the night to send a message to the league that this is a team to be feared, a team you need to prepare to play. It definitely seemed like the Hurricanes were very prepared to play in this game.
While the Sabres came out to an early lead when Thomas Vanek deflected a shot from Jordan Leopold on the point that put the Sabres up 1-0. However it wasn’t long before Carolina answered right back, and it was clear to the astute fan, that this was going to be a game that was going to go punch for punch. The Sabres next goal came from Derek Roy, who hadn’t put a puck in the net since December 2010 due to injury.
The Sabres went on the power play for the final two minutes of the first period and it seemed like the boys from Buffalo were going to head into the second period with at least a one goal lead. Unfortunately the Sabres special teams let a two on one develop and gave up the lead on their own power play. They headed into the second period tied, and with the wind completely out of their sails.
The Sabres gave up another short handed goal in the second period to give Carolina their first lead of the game. Buffalo’s power play has never been their best card to play, but this is a whole new disgrace to their special teams. It is one thing to have an unsuccessful power play unit, but for the power play to go minus two at your teams home opener is embarrassing.
Drew Stafford would tie the game with only two minutes left in the third period, being the clutch player that the Sabres signed him to be. It seemed like the Sabres may have a little glimpse of their former selves when Stafford scored. It brought back memories of past years when Buffalo would come up big in the final minutes to send the game into overtime, it seemed that way…
Thomas Vanek had other plans however. Only seconds after Stafford's goal, which in many Sabres’ fans minds was at least going to get Buffalo a point by going to overtime, Vanek took a lazy tripping call after he was already behind the play. This put Carolina up on the man advantage for the final two minutes of the game. Jeff Skinner snapped a rebound past Ryan Miller and that was all she wrote.
Thomas Vanek, the so-called teams unofficial captain for the end of the season last year, handed the game over on a lazy, and useless penalty. Its these kind of mental errors that have always held Vanek back from taking the next big step in his career into becoming a Bobby Ryan, or Jonathan Toews. He simply is not mentally strong enough, however he is experienced enough that he should not be making plays that put his team at a disadvantage in such a clothes game. Laziness lost the game for Buffalo.
This was a game that was full with emotion and a lot of physical play. Jason Pominville got caught with his head down at center ice and took a big hit which sidelined him, only until the end of the period. It was said later that he was checked for concussion, was cleared and so he was able to return. This was only real cause for concern because Pomer was out last year for the first time in his career for double digit games due to concussion, and anyone who is following Sidney Crosby knows how bad two head injuries can be. Cody McCormick and Paul Gaustad avenged the hit on their new captain, sending the message that this is not the team to take cheap shots on.
All in all, the game felt a little too much like last years team and not the new era that Sabres fans have been hoping for. The thing to remember, is that this is still a new team. Whether or not Buffalo has a much stronger line up then last year, this season is all going to come down to how well the team can adapt to each other and how fast they can do it.
We'll just have to see how it goes tonight on the road against Pittsburg...
Lets Go Buff-A-Lo!!!