The Buffalo Sabres needed someone who could score. Aside from Thomas Vanek, who is playing as well offensively as anyone in the NHL, no one could.
One player didn’t even get the chance.
Buffalo has its first losing streak of the season after dropping a second straight game to Carolina on Friday night. The Hurricanes earned a 6-3 decision Thursday in Carolina, then came north to deliver a 3-1 setback in First Niagara Center.
“Guys created pretty well,” Sabres goaltender Ryan Miller said. “We just couldn’t find the back of the net.”
A total of 18,825 spectators watched the event. There were 18,824 in the stands, and one on the Buffalo bench.
Rookie Mikhail Grigorenko played just two shifts in the second period and none in the third. The center had only 6:48 of ice time, so it’s safe to say the fourth game of his five-game tryout was a waste.
“It’s the coach’s decision,” Grigorenko said. “I just was sitting on the bench and was waiting for if he was going to call my name to go on the ice.”
Coach Lindy Ruff elected to start the offensively gifted Russian on the fourth line with wingers John Scott and Nathan Gerbe. The 18-year-old had been on the third line (which means more ice time and better opportunities), but Ruff went with left wing Steve Ott, center Jochen Hecht and right wing Patrick Kaleta in an attempt to quiet Carolina captain Eric Staal.
“We tried to be a little harder on Staal,” said Ruff, who used Grigorenko for only 1:54 in the final 40 minutes. “I just felt once he hadn’t played for a long period of time, it wasn’t fair to try to stick him in the fire.”
“I understand my role on the team,” Grigorenko said. “I’m not going to play 25 minutes per game like in juniors, but every shift on the ice I’m trying to do what coach wants from me. I’m trying to work as hard as I can, and hopefully I’ll be good enough for this team.”
Grigorenko could have a better role Sunday if he plays when the Sabres visit Washington. Ruff has seen enough of his forward lines. With the exception of Vanek alongside center Cody Hodgson and right wing Jason Pominville, Ruff will break things up – specifically the sputtering unit of Tyler Ennis between Marcus Foligno and Drew Stafford.
“I tried to be patient,” Ruff said. “We were hoping that the Ennis line could catch a little traction, but I think right now we can try anything going to the next game.”
The decision comes after Buffalo scored just once on 41 shots.
Vanek, on the power play early in the third, got the puck in the corner of the Carolina zone. He spun away from Joni Pitkanen, then fought off repeated slashes from the defenseman on his way toward the slot. Once clear, Vanek ripped a shot over Dan Ellis’ glove with 1:56 gone to bring his season totals to three goals and six assists.
“The effort on the goal and the shot was tremendous,” said Ruff, who lost Vanek for a few shifts during the second with a muscle strain.
A fine individual play by Carolina’s Alexander Semin made the affair equal again 1:35 later. Like Vanek, he did it on the power play. He stole the puck from Robyn Regehr deep in the Buffalo zone, slowly skated into the faceoff circle then quickly turned. His rapid-fire shot went over a shocked Miller’s glove.
The Hurricanes silenced the sellout crowd with 4:50 to go as Jay Harrison scored from the point off a faceoff win in the Buffalo zone. Jeff Skinner sent the fans to the exits with 25.2 seconds left, scoring into an empty net.
“I had a feeling Semin would go there, but I didn’t get a good look at the release,” said Miller, who made 39 saves. “I probably could have challenged that one more. The other one, I’ve got to find it through the traffic. I didn’t pick up the release, kind of saw it halfway through. I was just a little too far to the side. I’ve just got to find it, make a save.”