Nathan MacKinnon and Alexander Kerfoot continued their recent strong play, but turnovers by the team proved costly for the Colorado Avalanche in the final outing of a five-game homestand.
Kerfoot assisted on both of MacKinnon's two goals, but that was all the scoring the Avs received as they fell 4-2 to the Buffalo Sabres at Pepsi Center on Tuesday. It was Colorado's third loss in a row.
"I don't think we deserved any better. We turned the puck over. We were sloppy. We had some chances," MacKinnon said. "It would be nice if a couple more went in, but we got to live with it."
The Avalanche outshot the Sabres 37-35 and had a 75-63 edge in attempts. Defensively, Colorado was credited with five giveaways while Buffalo had nine takeaways, and there were probably several more that were missed by the off-ice officials.
"It's concerning because we're not playing the way we can play," said Avalanche head coach Jared Bednar when reflecting on the missed opportunity of the homestand. "We've played much better over the course of the season. We look like we're tired, and I don't believe we are. We've been giving them ample time to rest, but that is just how we're playing right now. We're not on top of it, skating the way we can skate. There are some puck decisions and things like that in there."
A turnover in the Avs' offensive zone during a power play spurred the Sabres to get on the scoreboard first, as Benoit Pouliot tallied shorthanded on a rush the other way at 5:32 of the second period.
The goal gave life to the visiting team, who picked up its first win at Pepsi Center since Dec. 4, 2005.
"We gave them everything I thought," MacKinnon said.
Video: Nathan MacKinnon after loss to Sabres
Both of MacKinnon's goals tied the contest and came on slick shots. He scored on a short-side wrister on the power play at 12:22 of the second frame and then recorded another man-advantage tally by driving to the net and placing the puck five hole on goaltender Robin Lehner.
MacKinnon now has six points (three goals and three assists) in his last five games, and 22 points (seven goals and 15 assists) in 14 home contests this campaign. His 10 goals on the year now lead the Avs.
After the contest, MacKinnon's second multi-goal effort of the season was the farthest thing from his mind.
"I'm just trying to play hard. It doesn't really matter. We didn't get the win," he said.
Kerfoot's helpers on both of MacKinnon's markers brings his rookie scoring total to 20 points (eight goals and 12 assists). Among NHL first-year players, he is now tied for fourth in points and second in power-play points (10). His seven helpers with the man advantage are tied for third among the league's freshmen players.
Buffalo pulled back ahead with 8:06 left in the third period on an Evander Kane wraparound shot that took a fortuitous bounce off the end wall. Jack Eichel then buried an empty-net tally with 33 seconds remaining.
The Avs were buzzing around Lehner in the latter half of the third frame, crashing the net and trying to knock in any loose pucks to tie the contest. The team had looks, but its shots went wide or were stopped in front by the Sabres, who finished with 22 blocked shot on the night.
"We're going through something here where we're not playing the way we're capable of," Bednar said. "It's not our care--I can tell by being in the locker room and listening to them talk and how they are responding to things from a verbal standpoint that they care. We're just not playing real well right now."
Video: Jared Bednar after loss to Sabres
The Avalanche's upcoming road trip might be its toughest test yet in this early campaign, but it also might come at a good time for the squad.
Colorado's opponents on this four-stop trek are averaging 32.5 points in the standings, with its first foe in the Tampa Bay Lightning leading the league with a 19-6-2 record and 40 points.
"I think it's the biggest road trip we've had this season," said Mikko Rantanen, who added an assist on MacKinnon's first goal. "We didn't have a good homestand, we know it, everybody knows it. Four losses out of five, it's not good enough. Now we just have to reset tomorrow and go with a fresh mind on the road and try and get as many points as we can."
The road can also offer a chance for the players to remove themselves from distractions in their lives and focus solely on hockey.
That might be exactly what the Avs need.
For the fifth time this season, coach Jared Bednar threw out the challenge flag, so to speak, as he contested Jake McCabe's goal that gave Buffalo a 2-1 advantage with 1:01 left in the second period.
Bednar and the Avs thought that the Sabres' Johan Larsson was offside when he brought the puck back into the offensive end while two of his Buffalo teammates were trying to tag the blue line to get onside.
Video replay after the score showed a close call and the review by the linesmen on the ice was fairly lengthy before the officials ruled that there was no offside and the goal counted. Colorado was assessed a delay of game penalty on the play but successfully killed it off.
"It's probably the right call, but at the time, for me, there was a feeling that we should challenge that," Bednar said after the game. "We lost it, and I liked our penalty kill tonight. We were blocking shots, doing a lot of good things."
The Avs are now 2-for-5 overall on coaches challenges this season and 0-for-2 on ones that involve offside.
Colorado forward Colin Wilson was back in the lineup after missing the past three games with a lower-body injury.
He had one shot in 8:59 of ice time. He began the contest by centering the fourth line with Sven Andrighetto and Grimaldi.
Wilson has played in 17 games this season, as he missed six contests earlier in the year with a hip ailment. He has a goal and four assists in his first year with the Avs.
"I think the last four, five games, I started feeling like myself out there and feeling like I was making the plays I can," Wilson said before the contest. "I'm looking to build off that and that hasn't gone away. I'm just going to keep trying to contribute."
GRIMALDI, SIEMENS PLAY
The Avalanche's two most recent recalls from the San Antonio Rampage of the American Hockey League dressed for the first time since being called up.
Forward Rocco Grimaldi, who was recalled on Monday afternoon, was on a line with Andrighetto and Wilson while defenseman Duncan Siemens, recalled on Nov. 28, was paired on the backend with Anton Lindholm during even-strength play.
Tuesday marked the first NHL game of the season for Siemens, who had played in four career contests with Colorado. Grimaldi was playing in his sixth outing with the Avs this year.