Behind the bench of the Nashville Predators for the past four seasons, Phil Housley was the benefactor of many a strong performance from goaltender Pekka Rinne. Facing his former organization for the first time on Monday, he found himself on the opposite side of that equation.
The Buffalo Sabres outshot the NHL-leading Predators but were ultimately stifled by Nashville's All-Star goaltender in a 4-0 loss. Rinne made 35 saves for his league-leading eighth shutout of the season and extended his personal win streak to 11 games.
"You saw it tonight, he makes some really big-time saves," Housley said. "We had some really golden looks he made look really easy."
Video: Condensed Game: Predators @ Sabres
The Sabres had chances throughout the night - they were outshooting the Predators 10-3 midway through the first period - but never got the bounce they needed to solve Rinne. Jack Eichel and Kyle Okposo both ripped shots off the post. Other shots hit net-front traffic and drifted just wide of the net.
Most chances were simply swallowed by Rinne before the Sabres could do anything with them. Housley was largely pleased with the effort and performance of his team but said he would have liked to see them whacking at rebounds more often in the first period.
Eichel, playing his second game back from a high-ankle sprain, had as many chances as anyone. He generated a game-high 11 shot attempts, including five shots on goal.
"Give him credit. He's one of the best goalies to ever play in our league for a reason," Eichel said. "Obviously in a game like that I think you've got to find one, and I thought we had a little bit of a hard time doing that.
"Whether it's the second and third opportunities or, you don't want to make the extra pass but against a goalie like that maybe you're thinking about it because of how calm he is in there. He doesn't leave a lot of pucks hanging around his crease, he gobbles a lot of stuff up. He made it tough for us, but we competed hard. You've got to like the effort but at the end of the day it's a 4-0 loss."
Linus Ullmark made 28 saves for Buffalo in his first NHL start since Jan. 11 and stood tall for the Sabres from the opening puck drop - literally. Victor Arvidsson raced past the defense for a mini-breakaway off the opening draw, leaving Ullmark to make a pad save less than 10 seconds into the game.
The Predators finally broke a scoreless tie with a pair of second-period goals from Mike Fisher and Ryan Johansen. Fisher opened the scoring with 7:31 remaining in the period, battling in front of Ullmark and deflecting a shot from the point by Miikka Salomaki. The Sabres challenged for goalie interference on the play, but to no avail.
Housley said he felt that Fisher's skate tangled with Ullmark's, preventing the goalie from getting into position.
"Their skate went into our goalie in the crease, in the blue paint," he said. "I would call that 100 out of 100 times. To me, that's goalie interference. His skate hit Linus' skate, which doesn't allow him to get down into the butterfly and make the save. So, I don't know what you call goalie interference anymore.
Johansen scored on a 3-on-2 rush less than five minutes later. Ryan Hartman and Filip Forsberg scored goals in the final four minutes of regulation to pad the lead, which Housley said were of no fault to the goaltender.
"I really liked Linus' game," Housley said. "I feel bad there was four goals, because the last two were sort of mistakes that we made. But he stood tall, he made some big saves when he had to. It's just unfortunate. I really liked the way he played tonight. I thought he was really in control."
Video: NSH@BUF: Ullmark rejects Turris as he falls to ice
The Sabres will have a chance at redemption when the two teams meet in Nashville on March 31. In most respects, its fair to assume they'll look to replicate their performance from Monday. To change the result, they'll have to crack the goaltender.
"Against a team like that, you've got to make them go back into their own end and try to break the puck out a lot," Eichel said. "I thought at times we did a good job of that, I thought at times we did a good job attacking the offensive line with speed and creating opportunities. But you've got to bear down on the net."
The Sabres host the Arizona Coyotes at KeyBank Center on Wednesday night. Coverage on MSG-B begins at 6:30 p.m., or you can listen live on WGR 550. Puck drop is scheduled for 7.
The team concludes its homestand against the Montreal Canadiens on Friday night. Looking for a night out with the family? Family Packs - which include four 300-level tickets, four hot dogs, four sodas and four popcorns - are available here.