MONTREAL — It’s a cliche every hockey coach uses: Get your team to play a full 60 minutes. The teams that do it, like the Montreal Canadiens, rocket to the top of the standings.

The ones that don’t (see Sabres, Buffalo) get their coach fired, and show little improvement under the replacement with just two regulation wins in his 12 games.

But if you think interim coach Ron Rolston is completely stoic in the face of trouble, you didn’t see the timeout he called Sunday night in Washington or the clenched jaw he showed to reporters after a 5-3 defeat that dropped Buffalo to 14th in the Eastern Conference and 29th in the NHL.

For the second straight day, the Sabres gave up three goals in the second period — extending their NHL-leading total to 40. All three came in less than six minutes and the last two came in 43 seconds. Rolston called a timeout and aired out his club in full view of others for the first time since he took over Feb. 21.

Following the game, Rolston bristled when asked if he considered a timeout even sooner.

“There’s some times in the game where the guys have to collect themselves,” Rolston said. “We’ve got to have a team that can do that in a hockey game. If I had to call a timeout every time something went bad, I wouldn’t have enough. There’s times that guys have to compose themselves and you’ve got to be able to throw guys over the boards and be able to go out there and settle the game down and get the momentum back.”

The Sabres don’t do that at all. They had plenty to ponder Monday as they took a CBA-mandated day off in advance of their game against the Habs here tonight in Bell Centre.

Buffalo has given up three or more goals in eight its last nine games. After struggling in starts when Rolston took over, they’ve reverted back to their under-Lindy-Ruff pattern of falling apart in the middle 20 minutes. The Sabres’ game is fits and starts. A good period here, a good one there. Rarely two in a row.

When things go bad, panic sets in and is hard to stop.

“It’s an emotional game and sometimes you get caught up in the emotion,” said Jason Pominville. “Again, our second period. We give up a goal and we give up another goal in 45 seconds, basically the same shift. Talk about momentum switch. It just can’t happen.”

Pominville certainly bears responsibility as well. He skated right by Alexander Ovechkin and allowed the Capitals sniper to score after 19 seconds and put the Sabres in an early hole.

“It’s tough,” Pominville said. “Van [Thomas Vanek] tries to go in the lane. I tried to hop behind and get my stick in there. We lost the draw and in a moment it was in the back of our net. Everyone wanted to do good things but it just happened so quick there’s not much you can do.”

“We didn’t execute on the play,” Rolston said pointedly. “First of all, you can’t lose the draw that clean. And secondly we didn’t have the execution we need to on the play.”

Whether it’s a lack of a forecheck from forwards not skating hard, poor work out of the defensive zone thanks to bad passes by defensemen or forwards creating too great a gap, or poor goaltending of late by Ryan Miller, the Sabres have found new ways to give away points.

Now, in an odd quirk of the schedule, they play here twice in three games. They return to Bell Centre for a game Saturday night after hosting Toronto on Thursday. Meeting the Canadiens right now is terrible timing.

Montreal is 19-5-4 overall, including 9-3-2 at home. The Habs have won five straight games and are a stunning 13-1-3 in their last 17. From 15th in the East last year, they’ve rocketed to second.

The Sabres still insist they’re close, as evidenced by 11 one-goal losses. But the margin is thin almost every night in the NHL and that stat simply proves they’re not good enough. Tiny lapses almost every night make the difference.

“Again a second period put us behind the 8-ball,” Pominville said. “As much as I want to say we battled back and gave ourselves a chance at the end, it’s frustrating to say that every night and end up on the losing side of things.”


The Sabres announced the March 31 game against Boston and the April 7 game against New Jersey, both in First Niagara Center, have been moved from 7 p.m. to 7:30 to accommodate the NBC Sports Network. The Boston game still will be televised locally by MSG, while the visit by the Devils will not.