Perhaps I shouldn't say things like "Tampa has given up the second-most goals in the league - Thomas Vanek must be drooling", because it gave Mathieu Garon and the Tampa 1-3-1 scheme an opportunity to make me look like a fool. (Not that I need any help with that.)
In the last two games Tampa has figured out whatever was ailing them, and possibly aided by switching goalies to Mathieu Garon, Tampa's unique system stymied the Sabres all night long. Buffalo was limited to 21 shots for the game, only five of which came in the third period. The Bolts simply would not allow the Sabres to attack the neutral zone with any sort of speed, and when the Sabres did get the puck into Tampa's zone the Lightning had no difficulty retrieving the puck. Ultimately, the game became a defensive chess match that was decided by two mistakes - Ryan Miller losing a Pavel Kubina slapper from the right point in a crowd, and a Ville Leino turnover that led to eleventy billion Martin St. Louis dekes and a top-shelf goal.
Games like this are going to happen. No team is going to score three, four, or five goals every night. With this squad, however, the bright side is that it's very doubtful this will become a trend.
- Luke Adam hasn't scored in three games, so I've been trying to pay close attention to him to see what else he brings to the table. I'm starting to notice that he's making the little plays like a crafty veteran, such as a sticklift of a player at the Tampa blueline to to prevent him from clearing the puck and a swift backhand to get the puck across the blue line after fumbling it in the neutral zone. In other words - the sort of smart, heads-up plays that tend to endear a player to Lindy Ruff. I think it's safe to buy your #72 jerseys now - kid isn't going anywhere.
- Robyn Regehr continues to bring the nasty, delivering a wicked hit on ex-Sabre Dominic Moore. When Moore attempted to go wide and drive to the net, Regehr stayed with him every step of the way - forcing him behind the net, bouncing him off the glass, and wrestling him down as if he were planning to hogtie him. Textbook play from a physical shutdown defenseman.
- Other than his hideous turnover (see below), Ville Leino appeared to be more comfortable skating alongside Derek Roy and Drew Stafford when Tyler Ennis exited the game due to injury (also see below). I have to remind myself that we need to be patient with Leino - he's a guy who's had just a single good year and now we're asking him to play a position he hasn't played in the NHL with teammates he's never skated with. It took Philly quite a while to find Leino's ideal linemates in Danny Briere and Scott Hartnell, and it's reasonable to expect that Lindy Ruff may have the same problem.
- Since the Sabres had such trouble with gaining the zone, you'd think the power play could have been an equalizer. No sir - Buffalo was 0 for 3 on the powerplay, with just three measly Charmin-soft unthreatening shots. After a strong start to the season, the Sabres powerplay is just 1 for 14 in the last five games.
- That awful Leino turnover simply cannot happen. He appeared to be trying to get the puck to Derek Roy on the right wing, but Brett Connolly's stick clearly was not going to allow that. Leino had support from Drew Stafford on the left and could have much more easily gotten the puck to him for the clear, either directly on his stick or better yet, off the boards. The game was effectively over after St. Louis converted the turnover into a goal.
- I should preface this by saying I'm not really worried about Ryan Miller, but Pavel Kubina's goal made me realize that it's been the seeing-eye shots from the point that have been consistently getting behind him this season. Nate Guenin's goal for the Ducks in the season opener and a goal that was originally credited to Jay Harrison in the home opener (since changed to Alexei Ponikarovsky) are further examples. Are teams finding some weakness in either Miller or the Sabres' defensive system that is causing this, or is it just dumb luck? I don't know.
- During his first shift, Tyler Ennis crashed into the goalpost and left the game with an apparent foot or leg injury. Although he didn't return, I'm hopeful that it's not a long-term issue - he tested it out during a TV timeout and decided he couldn't go, which to me is more encouraging than leaving the ice entirely without attempting to return.
- Brad Boyes: zero points, 9:08 ice time. Welcome to the doghouse, Brad. Some of this is attributable to the Ennis injury, as Boyes was essentially left without regular linemates after Leino took Ennis' place with Roy and Stafford. But I'd like to think that if Ruff could get Leino more involved after the injury, he could have done the same with Boyes had he felt it was worth his while.