OTTAWA – The Buffalo Sabres have done a lot of talking behind closed doors the last few days. But what’s the old adage? Talk is cheap.
The Sabres’ ultra-loose defensive ways got tightened up some Tuesday night but there were still just enough crucial mistakes to doom them to another loss.
Undisciplined penalties that ruined any normalcy for running forward lines. A pair of big coverage gaffes. Not much traffic in front of the opposing net to help the offense. Those were the issues in Buffalo’s second loss here in a week, a 2-0 blanking at the hands of the Ottawa Senators before 18,429 in Scotiabank Place.
Craig Anderson, the NHL’s top goalie, made 42 saves for his second shutout of the season as the Sabres dropped their second straight and put a merciful end to a crushing stretch of games to open the lockout-shortened season.
Both goals came late in the second period. The Senators opened the scoring at 15:20 on a short-handed goal by defenseman Erik Karlsson, the defending Norris Trophy winner. Erik Condra beat a trio of Sabres to a rebound and shoved it past Ryan Miller at 17:14 to put Ottawa into a two-goal advantage and that was that.
The Sabres played 14 times in the first 24 days of their 48-game schedule and have little to show for it. They are 5-8-1 for 11 points and sit 12th in the Eastern Conference. Now they get a two-day break but face home toughies Friday night against red-hot Boston and Sunday afternoon against Pittsburgh.
After a weekend that saw them yield 82 shots on goal in splitting games against the New York Islanders and Boston, the Sabres went into crisis mode when they arrived in the Canadian capital.
Struggling Tyler Myers was benched for those two games but the team continued to be dominated in puck possession. Myers returned Tuesday, playing a strong 21 minutes, after a series of meetings with coach Lindy Ruff and teammates, notably veteran Robyn Regehr.
“We did a better job overall,” said Miller. “But doing better and not getting a win doesn’t do a lot for us right now. We just have to regroup, find the stuff we did well and keep working on our game. We can’t let too many more get away from us.”
The Sabres had a season-high in shots on goal but simply didn’t convert some good chances (Drew Stafford added four more shots to give him 40, tops among NHL players who are goal-less).
They gave up just seven shots in a first period that saw them finally garner a huge edge in possession time. A big problem, however, was the fact the Sabres were short-handed eight times. While they killed all eight, they were playing a man down for more than 13½ minutes.
Ten Sabres saw at least 3½ minutes of penalty-killing time. The top-line forwards (Cody Hodgson, Thomas Vanek and Jason Pominville) combined for more than 11 minutes on the PK.
“The key was the discipline side of things,” said Steve Ott. “... Our best players are killing penalties. We need those guys with more energy in the third period.”
Karlsson’s short-handed goal was a killer. After a Christian Ehrhoff pass was intercepted at center ice, Milan Michalek carried the puck down left wing and Sabres rookie Marcus Foligno showed a lack of awareness in coverage. Foligno allowed Karlsson to come through the right circle unfettered. Major mistake. Ehrhoff couldn’t step up on the play and Foligno lagged behind.
Karlsson tapped his stick on the ice to get his teammate’s attention and Michalek found him with a perfect cross-rink pass to allow Karlsson to rifle a shot over Miller’s glove. The Senators, coming off a shutout loss to Winnipeg, had their first goal in more than 121 minutes.
“They picked it off in the neutral zone and they turned back pretty quick,” Foligno said. “I have to make a better effort to backcheck and put some heat on him. It’s a tough play. I was kind of stuck at the blue line.”
Ottawa made it 2-0 when Condra punched home a Sergei Gonchar rebound, bullrushing between Ott, Nathan Gerbe and Andrej Sekera to the spot.
“It was a little bit of a mad scramble,” Ott said. “We probably wish we could have played it a little bit tighter in that situation.”
The same could be said for a lot of areas. Better focus, cleaner effort, not much difference in the results.