Game 59: Sabres riding the emotional highs and lows of youth
The Sabres had a brutal first 40 minutes that put them into a 4-1 hole before getting it to 4-3 in the third before ultimately falling to lowly Columbus 5-3 at home
BUFFALO — When home ice treats you unkindly, it can’t exactly be hidden away, and the Buffalo Sabres can’t hide their home record anymore. They especially can’t do so after a 5-3 loss to the Columbus Blue Jackets that saw them play an uncharacteristically sloppy game in which turnovers mounted and turned into instant scoring chances against.
What sticks out about these moments is how they pile up quickly once a goal against was scored.
At first it seemed like they’d shaken the propensity of letting things snowball when Kent Johnson’s first period power play goal was followed up 18 seconds later by Tage Thompson’s 41st of the season on a trademark snap shot from the right circle.
When that initial feeling of, “Oh it’s going to be like that, huh” disappears seconds later, it feels like a relief and not just for the fans. After all, this game, like others before it at home against Arizona, Vancouver, and Philadelphia among others, was one on paper that should’ve been easy to handle. Columbus is busy dueling with Chicago and Anaheim for getting the best odds to win the draft lottery and not trying to gain an edge in a race for the playoffs. They’ve played better of late, but with Elvis Merzlikins in goal (perhaps the worst goalie in the NHL this season) and the Sabres offense being what it is, on paper, this should’ve been a relaxed game.
Unfortunately for Buffalo, they played things a bit too relaxed, and the Blue Jackets came to play hard, disciplined hockey. That’s a bad combination for the favored team and Columbus took advantage with a frustrating defense that turned the easy-going effort into a nerve-wracking one.
“Obviously we know the magnitude of this game and the magnitude of the moment,” Sabres captain Kyle Okposo said. “We were just committed to doing the work. I just thought we were playing pond hockey in the first period and it’s not a good recipe for success this time of the year.”
Eric Robinson’s first of three goals on the night later in the first gave the Jackets a 2-1 lead that they’d extend to 4-1 with Robinson’s second halfway through the frame and captain Boone Jenner’s goal with 18 seconds remaining in the period. It was Robinson’s back-to-back goals, however, that sent the Sabres into an emotional hole.
The beauty of youth in the NHL is that when they’re flying and playing at the top of their game, it’s exciting and breathtaking. But if hard times arrive, managing those setbacks while in the process of earning your stripes early in your career can mean any down moment can lead to more following right behind it quickly.
“We’re emotional because we care and we want to win and we know the moment, we understand the moment that we’re in,” Okposo said. “We care.”
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