.... for the Ottawa Senators that is... and, well, for the Buffalo Sabres too, because if they continue to show the same lack of intensity, effort, and discipline in every game of this magnitude it'll be easy to predict the outcome come playoff time.
'Collectively sh?%^ing the bed,' as my counterpart at Hockey Country so eloquently put it, the Sabres were out played, hustled, worked, shot, hit, scored and classed in the first half of this game. Only after Max beat Ray Emery on the short side did the Sabres begin to even look like they belonged in the same building as the Sens. Up until that point Ryan Miller had been outstanding giving up 3 goals when he could have easily have given up twice that many and no one would have blamed him. To be honest though, it didn't seem to me that Ottawa was getting a ton of outstanding shots as MSG flashed the Scoring Chances around the time of the Sabres' goal giving Ottawa the edge 9-3 even though they were outshooting the Sabres something like 27-6 at that point.
The shift that produced Max's goal was the first one where the Sabres looked dangerous, actually getting through the neutral zone with speed and determination. It was started by a great play by Derek Roy, one of the few people who got off the bus last night with the intention of outworking the Senators. I've made mention of Roy's strength recently and last night confirmed those thoughts. He and Danny Briere were the two guys trying to will the Sabres back into this game, and they nearly succeeded.
To shift gears here for a minute and focus on the Senators, it was obvious to me that Bryan Murray sensed the Sabres' disinterest and sought to put them out of their misery early by feeding them a very steady diet of the Top 2 lines in the first period. It seemed to me that every time I turned around Spezza and Heatley were on the ice. Of course, it didn't help matters that the Sabres couldn't stay out of the box (regardless of the quality of the officiating). The Sabres didn't really have an answer for them and were constantly hemmed in their own end, which was as much a function of the ferocious forechecking of the Sens and the lack of puck support exhibited by our forwards, who repeatedly left the zone before our defensemen even had control of the puck, no less a clear passing lane out of the zone. So, multiple turnovers came from the D trying to move the puck to no one. By the time the Sens went up 3-0 I was watching this game only to see how the Sabres responded to the situation, not expecting (or really even wanting) them to win the game, it was now important for them to lift themselves up during this game and try to contend.
Flashing forward to the 3rd period where Daniel Briere proved beyond a shadow of a doubt that he is a star in this league; one of the most talented and tenacious players in all 3 zones. Watching this game on TV you could see how badly he, personally, wanted this game, even when his teammates were letting him down. Multiple times I saw him go in deep, challenge for the puck in the corner and foil Ottawa's breakout/turn the puck over to begin a cycle. The second PP goal was a direct result of Briere's gutsy performance, setting the stage to lift his team on his shoulder's and bodily bring them back into contention. I would not doubt that he personally apologized to Ryan Miller between periods. ;)
Once this became a 3-2 game, it also became the Sabres. Only then did they begin to attack the Sens, not playing with timidity and inordinate respect for the Sans. And, it is here that Sabres fans can take comfort and Sens fans should be worried because the Sens were given (rightly or wrongly) every opportunity to put this game away and bury the Sabres and they didn't. After the Sabres PP goal i knew they wouldn't get another one for the rest of the game. The lengthy 5 on 3 that was gift-wrapped to the Sens which was almost personally killed off by Derek Roy and Ryan Miller to keep the game close may possibly be a turning point for a couple of players in our organization.
In the end it wasn't our night, and it should not have been... the Senators deserved their two points, but in no way was the outcome of this game indicative of anything other than that the last 3 meetings between these teams should be doozies. I don't think the Sens have another gear. They threw everything they had at a Sabres squad playing with a stick in their ass and a quiver in their stomachs and only won 3-2. My feeling is that if, and this is a HUGE if, the Sabres come out and play their best game against this Ottawa squad that we destroy them in a Big Easy of our own.
The burning question, of course, is are they capable of playing that game? Until the next meeting my answer to that is "I have no idea."