The Penguins split their back-to-back set against Buffalo with a 4-2 loss on Sunday afternoon at KeyBank Center. Jason Zucker and Teddy Blueger scored for Pittsburgh, while Casey DeSmith made 25 stops.
It was pretty clear that this just wasn't going to be the Penguins' day from the drop of the puck. The Sabres converted a 2-on-1 rush off the opening draw just 26 seconds into the game, and never really looked back.
"I think they just outworked us a little bit harder today," defenseman John Marino said. "We get off to a flat start and they kind of got some chances early. That's just kind of the way the game went in the beginning, and it was too much to come back from."
It was a missed opportunity for the Penguins to gain some ground in the standings, as they trailed the first-place Capitals by three points in the East Division heading into today with the Islanders and Bruins hot on their tails.
"At this time of year, we can't afford to come out flat like that," Blueger said. "I felt like we were second to loose pucks, losing a lot of battles. I think that kind of cost us. In the sense that this time of year with about 10 games left and the playoff race the way it is, we just got to come out with more urgency."
As Penguins head coach Mike Sullivan said, Buffalo deserves a lot of credit for the way they played. Despite ranking at the bottom of the league following a franchise-record winless streak, the Sabres have had some new life as of late following a coaching change and personnel changes at the deadline.
"They played hard," said Sullivan, who is always adamant about how much respect he has for every team in this league regardless of what their record is. "They played well. The goals they got were good goals from some good players. So you have to give them credit. I don't think we had our best, but having said that, I thought we had opportunities that we weren't able to convert on."
One example of that came in the second period, when Sidney Crosby looked to the heavens after putting what should have been a tap-in goal through the crease. Shortly after, Sam Reinhart scored his first of two goals to give Buffalo a 2-0 lead.
Another example happened later in the middle frame, when Zucker tried to force a pass through to Jeff Carter on a 2-on-1. When asked about it after the game, Zucker clearly wasn't happy with himself, saying it was a "terrible" play.
"I thought that we had some good chances," Zucker said. "I don't think it was anything about work ethic, I think it was just that we weren't executing and I think we could have been a little bit harder in our d-zone, trying to end some plays earlier and transition out of our zone. But you got to give them credit, they played well. They outplayed us tonight."
However, Marino said there wasn't too much cause for concern.
"Obviously there's a lot we have to fix up, but we'll take it, we'll learn from it and move forward," he said.