PHILADELPHIA — The Buffalo Sabres didn’t show up on time to play Sunday night. Plain and simple. No deep analysis necessary.
They were down, 2-0, didn’t have a shot on goal after 10 minutes and that was basically that. The Philadelphia Flyers, who came into the game in crisis mode, had an easy time for 40 minutes before holding on tight to earn a 3-2 win over Buffalo before 19,687 in Wells Fargo Center.
The Sabres fell to 0-2-2 in their last four games and continued to lose touch with any semblance of a playoff race. Frankly, the more relevant race at this point is for a top draft pick. In fact, only a 5-2 loss by the Florida Panthers to visiting Montreal prevented the Sabres from falling into 30th place in the NHL’s overall standing.
Ten of Buffalo’s combined 17 losses this year are by one goal, proving the Sabres are just good enough to be bad.
Hockey Heaven it’s not.
With both teams on three-game skids – and speculation starting to swirl about the job status of Flyers coach Peter Laviolette after Saturday’s ugly 3-0 loss in Boston – there was plenty of surliness on both sides. The Sabres were left angriest by Wayne Simmonds’ hit from behind that sent center Tyler Ennis into the boards and out of the game for the night late in the first period.
Mike Weber followed Simmonds down to the other end of the rink and tried to exact a measure of retribution. He lost the battle and the war, earning two minutes for instigating, five minutes for fighting and a 10-minute misconduct. Simmonds walked away with nothing while Ennis didn’t return with what the team called an upper-body injury.
“That really hurt us when Webby gets an instigating penalty for asking somebody to fight who had just demolished somebody else in the numbers,” said Steve Ott.
“They thought they made the right call on it,” captain Jason Pominville said incredulously. “It was a push. It wasn’t a hit. That’s what the guy next to the hit told me. It’s tough. You lose one of your top centers, one of your most creative players offensively, out of a hit we feel wasn’t right.”
Interim coach Ron Rolston said Ennis has some stitches in his head and was walking around after the game but there was no update on his status. Like Pominville, Rolston scoffed at the explanation he got that Ennis was “rubbed out” along the boards rather than plummeted into the wall.
Simon Gagne and Claude Giroux scored power-play goals for the Flyers, neither one a shining moment for Ryan Miller in the Buffalo net. That was especially true for Giroux’s routine snap shot from the right circle that Miller flubbed 17 seconds into the second period. Max Talbot also burned the Sabres with a short-handed tally that put Buffalo into the two-goal hole after just 8:47 of play.
Rookie Brian Flynn got Buffalo within 2-1 at 11:43 of the first period, banging home a Kevin Porter rebound for his second in two games. Or equal to the totals veterans Drew Stafford and Jochen Hecht have scored all season.
Hecht, in fact, got his second at 4:32 of the third period, a short-handed tally on a feed from Ott on a two-on-one break.
The Sabres nearly tied the game a couple of minutes later as Cody Hodgson’s slapper dribbled through Flyers goaltender Ilya Bryzgalov and headed tantalizingly close to the goal line before it was swept away by Brayden Schenn.
It was stunning the Sabres were still in the game at that point. They had just four shots on goal in the first period and again had numerous misplays with the puck. Ott’s bad pass during a power play sent the Flyers off on a two-on-one that led to the Talbot goal. Buffalo’s 30th-ranked power play was 0 for 3, getting just one shot when Luke Schenn went off for boarding Nathan Gerbe from behind with 6:45 to go.
“Our special teams aren’t nowhere near where they need to be,” Pominville said.
“We didn’t have enough urgency and desperation off the start tonight,” Rolston said. “It’s been strange. When I first got here, second periods were the real problem and now we’ve shifted a little bit to the first. Hopefully we can squeeze that out the front side.”