PITTSBURGH — When Darcy Regier was laying the groundwork for his next rebuild, he said the Sabres needed to bring more elite players to Buffalo. The general manager said they didn’t have enough talent to contend for the Stanley Cup.
That was evident from the moment Buffalo stepped on the ice in Pittsburgh.
The Penguins might win the Cup this season, while the Sabres might win the first overall draft pick. Their differences were clear throughout the Penguins’ 4-1 victory Saturday in Consol Energy Center.
“This league’s hard, and they have to expect that it’s going to be hard during the course of the year,” Sabres coach Ron Rolston said. “We’ve got to find a way.”
The Sabres have lost their opening three games in regulation for the first time in history. Their longest winless streak to start a season is seven games, “achieved” in 1990-91 (0-4-3) and 1999-2000 (0-5-2).
Both those teams rebounded to reach the postseason. This edition will need to learn how to score just to have a chance at one victory. The Sabres have only two goals in the opening three games, and they came 122 minutes, 30 seconds apart.
“Overall, it’s the same story,” center Cody Hodgson said. “We need to get ways to generate offense. One goal isn’t enough.”
The Penguins had a step or two on the Sabres from the moment the puck dropped. It took only 3:39 for that to translate into a 1-0 lead. Sidney Crosby slipped between two Buffalo defenders and put his own rebound past goaltender Jhonas Enroth.
The Sabres were in a 2-0 hole before the opening period expired as Chuck Kobasew tipped Brandon Sutter’s shot from the point.
The Penguins finished the first with just an 11-9 edge in shots, but that failed to tell the tale of zone time and quality chances. Pittsburgh dominated. The Penguins finished the game with a 35-21 shot advantage.
“We didn’t generate a lot,” Rolston said. “We just have to be a lot simpler than we are right now. We pass up a lot of opportunities when we do get them, and I thought they played really well.”
The Sabres went 0 for 2 on the power play during the second period, extending their scoreless streak to the opening 13 opportunities of the season.
“We didn’t score again,” Hodgson said. “We need to.”
Pittsburgh made it 3-0 with 9:51 left in the game when Chris Kunitz scored on a penalty shot. Thomas Vanek ended the shutout bid of Marc-Andre Fleury with 4:54 to play, but Craig Adams answered with an empty-net goal.
The Sabres have given up only 2.33 goals per game so far, but they are still minus-5 in goal differential, tied for worst in the Eastern Conference. The lack of offense is crushing.
“We need to score goals,” defenseman Mike Weber said. “Our goalies have been doing a heck of a job for us in the three games.”
The Sabres are scheduled to take today off, giving the coaching staff and players a chance to regroup. They’ll return to practice Monday and host the Tampa Bay Lightning on Tuesday.
“We lost three straight games,” Enroth said. “Obviously, we’re frustrated. We’ll take the day off, get back to work Monday and try and figure this out.”