Don Granato’s Sabres squad put up a valiant, last-ditch effort to make the post-season, but it was ultimately too little, too late, as the Sabres fell to the Devils 6-2 and their season will thus end without the playoffs for an NHL-record 12th consecutive time.
The Sabres were a tenacious bunch early in the first period as the group regularly pelted Devils goaltender Vitek Vanecek with quality opportunities, and it looked like they may be able to capitalize on that momentum with an early powerplay. Lindy Ruff’s squad had the perfect antidote with the league’s 8th best penalty killing percentage in the league, according to covers.com, though, and the Devils were able to easily reverse flow and negate that opportunity.
Jesper Boqvist broke the 0-0 tie midway through the first 20 with an attempted net-front pass that ricocheted off the skate of Sabres’ defenseman Henri Jokiharju. On one hand it’s hard to be too tough on Jokiharju for an unfortunate deflection, on the other, part of the defensive job involves having full control of body parts and the directions they’re facing. It’s a morale-killing goal against when someone on the team essentially scores an own-goal.
Meanwhile, Mattias Samuelsson has really come alive on the back nine of the Sabres season and is now clearly showing why the organization rewarded him with a 7-year, $30 million compact back in the offseason. He’s shown a terrific blend of offensive and defensive acumen as the season has worn on.
Neither here nor there: The New Jersey Devils alternative jerseys look like an LA Kings jersey mated with an Adidas shoe. As Forrest Gump might muse: “That’s all I have to say about that.”
The second frame began with a Jonas Seigenthaler ripper that went bar-down and top cheese over the glove Devon Levi that looked like it caught a piece of Jokiharju again. Please, for the love of all things hockey, Kevyn Adams, add a real top-4 defenseman in the offseason.
The status of Ryan Johnson, whose status as a future part of the team suddenly looks somewhat perilous after his NCAA season ended and he still hasn’t signed a contract with the Sabres, figures to figure into that arithmetic. Anyway, it looked like the Sabres were able to narrow the second-period gap but thankfully the NHL off-side replay determined that JJ Peterka’s pinky toe was past the blue line and we were nearly saved from a fun play that would have narrowed the lead.
With Tage Thompson partially hobbled with what is suspected to be a rib injury, Casey Mittelstadt has filled in nicely on the top line as he’s contributed 3 goals and 9 assists in his last 10 games. He filled in admirably and effectively for the notably tall and talented Thompson. It still begs the question as to his long-term future with the Sabres with centers Thompson and Dylan Cozens above him – is there room for both Mittelstadt and Peyton Krebs in this organization in the short term?
Speaking of Krebs, he set up Zemgus Girgensons with several unbelievable scoring chances. It’s borderline criminal to pair up an unbelievable playmaker like Krebs with two linemates like Girgensons and captain Kyle Okposo who can’t capitalize on the opportunities he generates. The Sabres need to make some real decisions on their bottom-six personnel moving forward. Whether that includes both Mittelstadt and Krebs remains to be seen.
And so, the time wound down on the Sabres in their losing effort against the Devils, and so too has my time wound down on Hockeybuzz.com.
This will be my last blog entry. I’d like to thank each and every reader for taking the time to read my musings, because, of course, I wouldn’t have had this opportunity without each and every one of you.
It’s been my great privilege to talk Sabres hockey with everyone who has posted on this website while I've been here. Words can’t describe how much this gig meant to me when I was first tasked with the job; it truly meant the world to me as an English major who yearned to hone the craft of the spoken word. So to was it a dream to write about my beloved a Sabres – a team that I’ve cherished since my early childhood years.
Kevyn Adams and Don Granato have this thing headed in the right direction. I have little doubt about that. I also have no doubt that I’m not the right voice for this blog anymore as the Sabres make their way out of the dark, dark drought times and into brighter days ahead. I’ve gazed into the abyss of the darkest days, and have watched far too much drought hockey to have emerged from this period unscathed.
If you’ll allow me the incredibly nerdy parallel, it’s a bit like Frodo Baggins from The Lord of the Rings leaving for the Undying Lands after his successful journey through Middle earth. He knows he can’t go back to normal life, and so too do I know that I can’t love this team or care about this team like I did before the dark times. It sounds silly, but I lost an unquantifiable element of my love for this team along the way as the year of losses piled up.
It didn’t come back when the wins returned.
The readers here deserve a writer who can express the excitement of the years ahead for a young Sabres team that is ready to make the next step. And you should all know this, as I expect most do: the dark times are indeed ending for Sabres fans. Next year should be the first of many fun seasons to come.
This organization is pointing in the right direction for the first time in over a decade.
Enjoy it, Sabres fans.
Hank Balling IV
(co-signed: J Crag Crumple)