It takes a lot to go wrong to lose on a buzzer-beater in the NHL, a sport not really designed for such a thing. Of course, it takes a lot to go wrong to be the Buffalo Sabres.
The mostly faceless, early-season surprise team has crashed back to earth thanks to the swelling gravitational attraction of sample size. Once 5-1-1, the Sabres have now lost eight of their last 10, putting them more in line with both predictions and talent level. And with Jack Eichel finally gone, the only remaining drama is whether they can be hopeless enough to earn a Sabres Week on Defector.com. So far the answer is: Not really. They're game but overmatched, the fate of many a rebuilding team. And while Buffalo's sprightliness can keep things close, "close" just means the losses can be that much more painful.
Take Sunday—please!!! (That's a little Borscht Belt x Western New York humor.) For 59:59.6, the Sabres hung with the Rangers, matching them goal for goal and then, in the closing seconds of regulation, pinning the puck along the boards to try to snatch a point and go to overtime at four-all. Unfortunately, the Rangers had other ideas.
It's hard to see in the scrum, but it looks like Chris Kreider wrested the puck from where Tage Thompson had it immobilized, and flung it blindly and fortuitously to Adam Fox, who as time ticked down had abandoned his position high enough to knock down any clearing attempts (of which there were, fatefully, none). A little tiki-taka from Fox to Mika Zibanejad to Ryan Lindgren, and the Sabres could only watch as New York took the 5-4 lead with 0.4 seconds left.
It was just the 24th "buzzer-beater" (go-ahead goal with less than a second remaining) in NHL history, and it required a team effort on the Sabres' part. First, a failure to accomplish the basic act of sitting on a puck for 10 or so seconds. Which might be harder than it sounds, but not THAT much. “That obviously shouldn’t happen,” said Victor Olofsson. “I think we should be able to keep that puck on the wall or just get rid of it. That’s a tough way to lose the game.”
Second, too much puck-watching from everyone not in the scrum, affording Zibanejad and both Rangers defensemen space and proximity. If you're not battling for the puck, you have to mark the blue jerseys who aren't either.
“I think everybody in the building knew the scenario and the clock, the situation,” said Sabres coach Don Granato. “We were no longer in a situation to score a goal, so the primary focus should have been on being in a defensive posture to make sure we didn’t get scored against and we gave up some inside position there, obviously. It’s unfortunate and the only thing you can do is learn from it.”Buffalo News
There may be a whole lot of unfortunate learning happening in Buffalo this year.