Drew Stafford returned to the Buffalo Sabres lineup with confidence but sat in the dressing room after the game wrapped in frustration.
Stafford scored a short-handed goal for the Sabres but the team failed to find a way to win the battle of the two worst teams in the NHL, dropping a 3-2 decision to the Edmonton Oilers at First Niagara Center Monday night.
After missing four games with an upper body injury, the forward was back in the Buffalo Sabres lineup and ready to help his team rebound from an ugly 7-1 loss to the Colorado Avalanche.
“I wasn’t around last couple games but just watching from afar, the attitude was that we needed to have a good response and coming against a team like this where we match up well against them,” Stafford said.
“It was good to get out there and get the legs going a little bit. It’s tough sitting out especially with the way the game went in Colorado, you want to be back in and be a part of it. We wanted to have a good response tonight. The effort I thought was there, but mistakes got the best of us.”
Stafford scored short-handed with 56 seconds left in the first period to give the Sabres a 2-1 lead. He picked up the puck and sped down the right wing with Zemgus Girgensons joining the rush.
“I was just trying to come down the wing, cut the middle and get to a little more of a scoring area and just was able to get a quick shot off high glove,” Stafford said. “It’s pretty simple.”
Pretty simple but pretty powerful. It’s the kind of shot that makes Stafford an offensive weapon – when he uses it with confidence.
“I thought Drew, the way he shot that puck, that’s what we want to see,” interim head coach Ted Nolan said. “He’s a big power forward and he’s starting to get his confidence back. First game back after two or three game break is tough sometimes but I thought he played well.”
It was the second short-handed goal of Stafford’s career. He now has six points (four goals, two assists) in his last five games. And the offense comes from Stafford building on his confidence regardless of the outcomes.
“I think it’s more about just going out and playing free and having a clear head more than anything,” Stafford said. “Even when you have confidence that doesn’t mean you’re going to score every time. A lot of times you might be feeling good but the puck’s just not going in for you. That’s the way it works. Fortunately I was able to get in a good scoring area and get a good shot off. Usually if I’m in that area and get the puck there I’m going to have a good chance.”
Sabres defenseman Tyler Myers left the game in with 4:27 left in the second period and did not return suffering an apparent right knee injury.
It happened behind the Oilers net on an offensive rush where he crashed into the boards.
Nolan was uncertain of Myers’ status after the game.
“Little concerned but no news is good news,” he said. “We’ll see what the doctor will say. We’re not 100 percent sure and we’ll get the doctors to look at him and see.”
Linus Omark finished with a strong game in his return to the lineup for the Sabres. Playing on the top line with Tyler Ennis and Stafford, he had three shots on goal – his most in a game this season, in 16 minutes and 15 seconds of ice time.
This was a game Omark had circled on his calendar after he was traded to Buffalo from Edmonton on Dec. 19.
“First thing I did when I got traded, I checked out when we played the Oilers,” Omark said.
The forward, who turns 27 on Wednesday, was a healthy scratch the last three games and has sat five times in the last six games.
“Of course you want to play,” Omark said after the team’s morning skate. I’ve been sitting five of the six last games. But I try to work hard at every practice and every opportunity.”
Since being acquired from Edmonton for a conditional sixth-round pick, Omark has played in 11 games with just two assists and seven shots on goal.
Not exactly the kinds of numbers that interim coach Ted Nolan wants to see.
“His game is very simple,” Nolan said. “He’s a skilled guy but he has to do something. When you don’t produce and you don’t play with the puck or without the puck, we’ve got trouble. We just need him to play a lot better.”
Omark was drafted by the Oilers in the fourth round in 2007. He was having an impressive year with their AHL team in Oklahoma City with 29 points (14 goals, 15 assists) in 29 games for the Barons. But he was never given much of an opportunity at the NHL level playing only one game for the Oilers this year.