On an icy night in Buffalo, NY the Sabres used a third period spark to surge past the Edmonton Oilers 4-3, Tuesday.
Despite First Niagara Center being sold out, the silence in the building resembled midnight mass on Christmas Eve.
Typically chants of “Let’s Go Buffalo!” ignite the arena when the team seemingly needs a spark or puts a string of aggressive shifts together, but even Sabre Tooth’s rhythmic drum beats couldn’t liven up the building.
The crowd did erupt in the third period when Drew Stafford chipped a loose puck past Edmonton netminder Nikolai Khabibulin through a net-front scrum to give the Sabres a 3-2 lead. “It starts with one,” Stafford said “There’s the one and now the opportunity is there to keep it going.”
Just over two minutes later, Stafford scooped a puck from the Sabres blue line high over the ice towards the Edmonton zone. Just as the puck landed near the Oilers blue line, a streaking Nathan Gerbe picked it up and walked in all alone on Khabibulin.
Gerbe froze the goalie with a little head fake, then pulled the puck to his backhand and fired a perfectly placed shot in the top corner to put the Sabres up 4-2.
Edmonton defenseman Corey Potter would take advantage of a Brayden McNabb turnover by firing a shot off the crossbar and in, with just over two minutes remaining, but it would prove to be too late for the Oilers who defeated the NHL-leading Chicago Blackhawks on Monday.
Sabres head coach, Lindy Ruff began the game by mixing up his top-two lines, splitting up the top scorers Vanek and Pominville.
The separation seemed to cause another slow start for Buffalo and that may have helped to subdue the home crowd early, as the Sabres were out-shot 14-8 and out-chanced in the first period, but still managed to finish the period tied at one.
The second period saw the Sabres come out with a little more fire, but that faded as the period wore on and the two teams finished the frame tied at two. “I didn’t think we worked hard enough for each other at the start of the game,” said head coach, Lindy Ruff.
Despite the Sabres grinding out a victory and much needed 2-points, there were two concerning themes that unfolded throughout the night.
Immediately apparent was the fact that the Sabres struggled to defeat a beaten up club that flew in from Chicago late the night before.
Even more pressing is the clear lack of ‘blood players’ on the Sabres roster. The type of player who gives their heart and soul for the team on a shift-to-shift basis. A player that will bleed for the guy next to him, just so that guy can go out there and do something to help the team achieve victory on any given night.
Blood players are not made, they are born that way. When the Sabres made their deep playoff runs, they had rosters chalk-full of blood players. Guys like; Michael Peca, Chris Drury, Jay McKee and countless others would sacrifice their bodies for the team on a nightly basis.
Not that the current Sabres don’t lay it all on the line, they just don’t have the make-up of a team that wants to fight for each other. This was never clearer than when Ryan Miller was run in Boston last November.
There’s a killer instinct absent from this team. For too long they have turned to Cody McCormick, Paul Gaustad and Patrick Kaleta for their grit and toughness. Last night, McCormick was out of the lineup, while Gaustad and Kaleta were seemingly invisible in 27-minutes of combined ice time.
Those guys aren’t the only ones who need to bring that style of play though. Drew Stafford’s 3-point night aside, he was consistently outworked to loose pucks and lacked any creativity on the offensive attack.
Zack Kassian was drafted to bring toughness with an offensive flair to a team dearly lacking in both, but since early in his call up, he has not impressed with his grit or playmaking. Kassian was advertised as a blood player, but on this team he looks just like the core of contented veterans who all got paid in the off-season.
It may be that this team has lost the will to compete because they don’t have faith in the system, it could be that they are still banged up and need to get healthy, but it is clear when watching other teams around the NHL, the Buffalo Sabres don’t play the type of inspired hockey necessary to carry a team deep into the playoffs.