At the end of the day, even the optimists and pessimists came to a consensus. The Buffalo Sabres’ glass was empty.
The latest loss, a 4-3 setback against Pittsburgh on Sunday, had enough twists to give both faithful fans and fed-up followers evidence for their causes. Buffalo showed character in rallying from a dreadful start, and the Sabres were in position for a weekend sweep of two elite teams. Then they failed to deliver, continuing the run of crucial mistakes that have turned this into a season of frustration.
“At the end of it all, we’d be a lot happier with the two points we deserved to be walking out with,” said Steve Ott, who gave the Sabres a 3-2 lead with 14:43 to play. “We should have worked our way back, clawed, scratched and left here with some points. It’s disappointing when we’re walking out of it empty-handed.”
The Sabres had nothing to show for the effort because their only lead lasted less than two minutes. Pittsburgh collected a turnover by Jason Pominville, got the Sabres running around and tied the game with 12:54 left.
With 2:04 to play, Paul Martin shot past a screened Ryan Miller to send the Sabres to their third loss in four games.
This one ate at Miller. The goaltender unleashed several profanities after the Sabres fell to 3-4-1 in First Niagara Center. In every regulation loss, the game was tied during the third period.
“We’re neither competent enough nor experienced enough with the lead in the third period,” Miller said. “That burned us. It’s not acceptable.
“It’s 3-3, get to overtime. It’s 3-2, [expletive] make them come all the way down. We worked too hard.”
They did work hard …
“But in the end we still have zero points,” defenseman Christian Ehrhoff said. “That’s what matters. Obviously, we played a lot better against a very good hockey team. There’s more positive things we have moving forward, but still frustrated because there was definitely more in that game for us.”
The way things started, it’s surprising the Sabres even had a chance. They added another chapter to their history of poor starts, falling into a 2-0 hole after just 87 seconds. Yes, No. 87 was involved.
Pittsburgh picked on Cody Hodgson to open the scoring 35 seconds after the anthems. Pascal Dupuis easily stole the puck from the center to give the Pens possession, then got in position to deflect Brooks Orpik’s point shot.
The Sabres quickly compounded their problems by heading to the penalty box. Tyler Myers was whistled for high-sticking with 1:08 gone, and the Penguins’ second-ranked power play connected.
Evgeni Malkin fired a shot off the back boards, with the carom heading to Sidney Crosby at the goal post.
His shot nearly crossed the goal line before Mike Weber dug it out, but the Sabres defenseman knocked it back in with 87 seconds gone to match the number on Crosby’s sweater.
“Our first minute and a half was definitely pretty tough,” Ott said.
Hodgson gained a measure of revenge by making it 2-1 with 6:32 off the clock. The center got in front as Ehrhoff shot from the point, grabbed the rebound and went wide to beat Marc-Andre Fleury for his seventh goal.
The Sabres’ struggling power play came through midway through the second to change the game. Crosby went to the box with 7:39 gone, and Tanner Glass joined him two seconds later for a faceoff violation. The fans promptly cheered the impending five-on-three, and their enthusiasm was rewarded.
The Sabres ended a power-play drought of 13 straight. Ehrhoff, at the right point, slid a low, hard shot toward Thomas Vanek in the slot. The NHL’s leading scorer calmly deflected it home with 23 seconds left into the two-man advantage for his 12th goal.
The Sabres put the Penguins in a hole for the first time with 14:43 left.
Nathan Gerbe’s shot from the right side hit Orpik, and the carom went directly to Ott in the slot. Buffalo had a late 3-2 lead and a chance at two wins in a row after beating Boston on Friday.
“You know you have that opportunity to seize the moment,” Sabres coach Lindy Ruff said, “and we didn’t.”
The tying goal came after Pominville came close to the blue line but didn’t cross it. The Penguins took advantage. Kris Letang threaded a cross-ice pass to Dupuis, who celebrated his second of the day with 12:54 left.
“Giveaways will happen,” Pominville said. “It’s part of the game. You just have to make sure we play well in our zone, and at that point we didn’t. They end up making a play.”
They made another to deprive the 19,070 fans from seeing overtime. Crosby had the puck knocked away deep in the Buffalo zone, but it went to Martin at the top of the circles. His high shot flew off Ehrhoff’s hip at the top of the crease to give the Penguins their third straight victory and make Buffalo’s comeback moot.
“We’ve got to learn how to bury teams when we have the chance,” said Hodgson, whose team hosts Winnipeg on Tuesday. “We went up a goal, had momentum again. We were rolling there for a little while, and it’s just too bad how it worked out.”