- E.J. Hradek, Senior Writer, ESPN The Magazine
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The sellout home crowd of 18,690 was rocking HSBC Arena. Star co-captain Chris Drury had a strong first shift, picking the pocket of Senators pivot Jason Spezza in the neutral zone, then skating over the blue line and launching a shot at the net. On the game's second shift, the Sabres continued to push at the Senators. They were building momentum.
Then, something bad happened.
Normally, getting a power play is a good thing. On Thursday night, however, the Sabres' power play wasn't pretty. In fact, it was pretty ugly.
The unit's inept effort (or was it a strong effort by the Sens' penalty killers?) was a large part of the Sabres' 5-2 series-opening loss to the Senators.
"It hurts you," Sabres coach Lindy Ruff said when asked about his team's pitiful power-play effort. "We'll have to go back and work on it."
Yes, Ruff & Co. will have to work on it.
They can start by figuring out a way to keep the Senators' penalty killers from getting too many good scoring opportunities.
On that first power-play chance (with Preissing in the box), swift Sens winger Dean McAmmond took a pass from captain Daniel Alfredsson and broke toward the Sabres' net. Buffalo goalie Ryan Miller did a nice job turning back McAmmond's short-handed chance.
But, a little more than a minute later, Miller couldn't stop a second clean breakaway. This time, speedy Sens center Mike Fisher pressured Sabres defenseman Dmitri Kalinin into a bad decision at his blue line. (To be fair, Sabres winger Maxim Afinogenov put Kalinin in a tough spot with an ill-advised pass up the boards.) The opportunistic Fisher scooped up the loose puck and sped away from the dazed defender. With plenty of time, he gave a little shoulder fake then fired a wrist shot through Miller's five-hole to give the Senators a 1-0 lead.
The short-handed shocker set the Sabres back on their heels and sucked the energy out of the building.
Reeling, the Sabres took a couple of quick penalties to give the Senators' power play a 4-on-3 advantage for 13 seconds. After that, it would have become a two-man advantage for another 1:28. I say "would have" because the Senators didn't bother to wait. At the 7:54 mark, Alfredsson buried a one-time bullet to Miller's short side from the left wing face-off circle. The Ottawa captain set up the sequence leading up to that goal by pressuring Buffalo defenseman Henrik Tallinder into a turnover behind the Sabres' net.
Less than 10 minutes into the game, the Sabres had squandered a pair of power plays and found themselves in a two-goal hole.
Afterward, the Sabres were clearly disappointed about their work -- or lack thereof -- on the power play.
"Not much," Drury said when asked what the power play was doing in Game 1. "Did we get any shots?"
Not many. And when they did have a chance to test Ottawa goalie Ray Emery, they too often fired high and wide.
"I thought they read us pretty good tonight," Drury said of the Sens' penalty killers. "We'd dump it in, but they'd be able to get to the puck, bump it back and get it out."
Coming into each of his team's three playoff series, Ottawa coach Bryan Murray has focused a lot of time on special teams. He likes his team's 5-on-5 game, and he figures if they can lock down the special teams game, they'll be in a great position to win.
"The special teams meetings are the longest we go through," said Murray, who is making his first conference finals appearance as a coach. "They're longer than our full team meetings."
The Senators wanted to be aggressive on the penalty kill. And they wanted to push the envelope even more so when they figured out something about the game conditions.
"It was tough to make more than one or two good passes in a row because the puck was bouncing a lot," Senators defenseman Wade Redden said. "Seeing that, we wanted to pressure them as much as possible."
On the night, the Sabres went 0-for-5 with the man advantage. It seemed like it was even worse.
No doubt, Ruff and his coaching staff will study the tape and look to make changes. In eight regular-season meetings and one playoff game, they haven't had too much power-play success against the Senators. The numbers -- just 6-for-49 on the power play -- aren't very good.
Still, in the Ottawa dressing room, they expect they'll get a different look in Game 2.
"They'll make some adjustments and they'll be better," Redden said. "We have to be better, too."
In Game 1, the Senators were better in most areas of the game. Ruff admitted as much after the game, saying, "We were fortunate to be tied after two periods."
On Saturday night, the Sabres would do well to convert their power-play chances. If they don't, they could find themselves in a hole they might not be able to get out of.
It was a particularly tough night for Kalinin. His turnover led directly to Fisher's first-period goal. A few minutes later, he sat in the penalty box while Alfredsson netted a power-play goal. Then, in the third period with the game tied, he couldn't stop fourth-line winger Oleg Saprykin from deflecting McAmmond's pass into the net behind Miller. Ruff acknowledged Kalinin's difficult evening, but he wouldn't bury his veteran blueliner. "He wasn't the only guy that struggled out there," Ruff said. "We're a team that wins together and loses together." ...
On the official game sheet, the Sabres were credited with 19 turnovers. Every Sabres defender had at least one turnover. Sophomore winger Thomas Vanek had a team-high three turnovers. "We had too many turnovers," Drury said. "You can't beat a good team like that when you turn the puck over as many times as we did." ...
In Game 2, the Sabres need to get more shots on Emery. The Senators goaltender made some good saves when tested. He did, however, continue to leave rebounds around the net. Afinogenov's first period goal was a result of such a play. He buried a rebound of a Kalinin shot at the 10:55 mark. Buffalo needs to direct more pucks at the young Ottawa goalie.
Normally, getting a power play is a good thing. On Thursday night, however, the Sabres' power play wasn't pretty. In fact, it was pretty ugly, E.J. Hradek writes.