Despite the return of Daniel Briere and Jochen Hecht
to the lineup, the Buffalo Sabres could not shake off the rust of a two-week layoff. Out of sync for the opening 30 minutes of play, the team fell behind 2-0 early in the second and ultimately suffered a 4-2 loss to Atlanta in front of the 12th sellout crowd in HSBC Arena this season.
"We've got some pieces we put back together and there are going to be some adjustments," said Sabres head coach Lindy Ruff. "We had two or three guys who were obviously tired in the lineup, a couple guys that hadn't played in a long time and we switched our power-play units around. We've worked on the power-play the last few days but it wasn't as sharp as it needed to be."
The man-advantage unit, ranked second overall in the league coming into the contest, capitalized on two of nine opportunities but failed to convert a five-on-three advantage midway through the first.
"As a coach you don't feel good about it and the players didn't feel good about it coming off," said Ruff of the missed opportunity. "Atlanta fed off that for a while."
In fact, the Thrashers scored less than three minutes after the second penalty expired on a power play of their own.
Cutting through the crease, former Sabre Vyacheslav Kozlov collected Jaroslav Modry's rebound, spun and flipped a backhander over Miller's right pad to give Atlanta the lead.
The goal was Kozlov's 19th of the season and the first power-play marker Buffalo's penalty kill had given up in their opponent's last 37 opportunities.
"I made a save on the initial shot and it just took me half a second longer to find the puck," said Ryan Miller
, who made 21 saves in his eighth loss of the season. "He actually made quite an interesting spinning, backhand play that barely beat me."
Atlanta padded its lead 1:48 into the second as Marc Savard found Niclas Havelid in the high slot for a one-timer and another power-play goal.
"It was a good one-timer five-hole," said Miller. "I was coming out to try to take the net away and it just hit me on a part of the leg that I couldn't close off. The puck just kind of spun its way in."
Chris Drury cranked a one-timer from the left wing past Kari Lehtonen for his 18th goal of the season three minutes later to make the score 2-1.
With the secondary assist on Drury's goal, Briere recorded his first point in 18 games after being sidelined with a sports hernia.
"Compared to practice, things are happening a lot faster out there," said Ruff when asked to critique Briere's performance. "As the game went on he got better, but he has a ways to go."
Brad Larsen scored a pair of unanswered goals in the third to put Atlanta up 4-1.
Less than three minutes into the final period, Larsen skated through the middle and snapped a wristshot from the left faceoff circle into the top-right corner of the net. The offering was a precision shot which Miller couldn't get a good read on.
After Miller was pulled in exchange for an extra attacker, Larsen laid a soft shot from Atlanta's blueline into an empty net for his second of the night.
Maxim Afinogenov brought Buffalo within a pair with less than 30 seconds remaining in regulation after one-timing Derek Roy
's pass from the left wing less than 10 feet in front of Lehtonen.
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0-1 (17:11): Vyacheslav Kozlov collected Jaroslav Modry's rebound, spun and fired a backhander over Ryan Miller
's right pad to give Atlanta the lead with less than three minutes remaining in the first period. The power-play goal was Kozlov's 19th of the season and the first power-play marker Buffalo's penalty kill had given up in their opponent's last 37 opportunities. Modry and Marc Savard get the helpers.
0-2 (1:48): From behind the goalline, Marc Savard fed Niclas Havelid in the high slot for a one-timer and two-goal Atlanta lead. The power-play goal was Havelid's four of the season. With the primary assist, Savard records his second assist/point of the game, while Ilya Kovalchuk gets the secondary helper. Period 2
1-2 (4:22): Chris Drury cranked a one-timer from the left wing over Kari Lehtonen for his 18th goal of the season. With the puck behind the goal line, JP Dumont's pass to Brian Campbell, who was cutting down the slot, kicked over the defenseman's stick and onto Drury's. Dumont and Daniel Briere assisted on the power-play goal. Period 3
1-3 (2:46): Brad Larsen snapped a wristshot from the top of the faceoff circle on the left wing into the top-right corner of the net. The goal is Larsen's fourth of the season and only score during the game that has come during even strength. Serge Aubin gets the lone helper.
1-4 (19:24): Brad Larsen hits the empty netter to make Atlanta's lead three goals.
2-4 (19:38): Maxim Afingenov skates into the slot and one-times Derek Roy
's pass past Lehtonen for his 15th goal of the season. Roy and Thomas Vanek
record the assists.