Drew Stafford could have used Sherlock Holmes as a linemate Saturday.
“This game’s a mystery,” Stafford said.
A couple of things had the Buffalo forward puzzled. The first was how the Sabres could look so good at the start and just throw it away during a 4-3 overtime loss to Ottawa. The other was personal. He’s struggled mightily to score all season, so he had no idea how he recorded his first multigoal game when he wasn’t even trying to find the net.
“It’s an absolute mystery,” he repeated.
The opening dilemma is much easier to solve. The Sabres turned the puck over and got outworked during the second period, and the oft-seen sleepwalk resulted in a 2-0 lead transforming into a 3-2 deficit.
“The first was probably one of our best periods of the year, and the second was probably one of our worst,” interim coach Ron Rolston said in First Niagara Center. “We must have just got comfortable. We can’t afford to be comfortable as a team right now, so it’s definitely disappointing.”
The Sabres earned a point for the seventh time in nine games when Stafford tied it with 7:54 to play. The Senators got the extra point when Kyle Turris scored on the power play with 1:06 left in overtime.
“We had the game under control, and one point is not enough,” said defenseman Christian Ehrhoff, who was in the penalty box for interference when Turris scored. “It’s absolutely unexplainable how we can play such a good first period where I thought we had them under control and just come out in the second and basically hand it to them, make mistake after mistake, a lot of turnovers that just can’t happen right now.”
The Sabres stumble into their game in Washington tonight with a 10-14-4 record that includes stretches of 1-2-3 in the last six and 4-2-3 in the last nine.
“We’ve got to put together a hell of a stretch here just to have a chance to get in the playoffs,” said defenseman Mike Weber, who scored the Sabres’ opening goal. “To go to sleep there for 20 is extremely disappointing.”
Stafford was bummed to have one of his best efforts fail to result in victory. He scored twice to double his season output to four goals. He tied teammate Jason Pominville with a game-high five shots.
“We were able to bounce back and get the one point, but at the same time is kind of our own undoing,” Stafford said. “We should have had two.”
Stafford’s outing likely boosted his status in Rolston’s eyes.
Rolston has used Stafford in a fourth-line role for much of the coach’s brief tenure, a big change for a former 30-goal scorer who was accustomed to top-line minutes.
“I kind of figured the situation with the new coach and starting over, that’s just the way it went,” Stafford said. “If I had to kind of start from scratch and slowly work my way back up to showing him what I could do out there, I’m just going to do my best to be solid out there and help the team win any way I can.”
Wins have been rarer than setbacks, and Stafford has taken it personally. The alternate captain knows the team would be better if his stat line read better than four goals and 11 points in 28 games.
“I feel as though that could have helped contribute to winning some games,” he said. “That’s ultimately my priority, to do what I can to help this team win, and that’s one thing that obviously is supposed to be a big part of my job.”
Former coach Lindy Ruff figured Stafford and linemates Tyler Ennis and Marcus Foligno would recapture the magic that led to 21 goals and 49 points in 13 games. Instead, Stafford opened the season with a 14-game goal-less drought. Ruff got fired midway through Stafford’s next slump, a seven-gamer.
“For whatever reason, the chemistry didn’t really work out at first with Tyler and Marcus, then it was just kind of all downhill from there with Lindy getting fired, the system getting changed and everything going a little crazy,” Stafford said. “It was a little out of control for a while, so I’d say that’s probably the most disappointing thing because like I said that could have helped us win a few more games if we had a little bit more of that secondary scoring.”
Stafford’s first goal Saturday came when he positioned himself in the crease and buried a deflection while falling. On the second, he saw hard-hitting Chris Neil barreling toward him at the boards, so Stafford just dumped the puck toward the net and braced for the hit.
The shot glanced off Ottawa center Zack Smith and past goaltender Ben Bishop to breathe life into the sellout crowd. Stafford hopes the day can breathe life into his disappointing season.
“Finally, I was able to get a break,” he said. “It’s just unfortunate I haven’t had too many of those.”