Hours before the puck dropped between the Buffalo Sabres and Philadelphia Flyers on Tuesday night, Dan Bylsma said that the start for his team would be telling of their ability to respond in a moment of adversity.
It's something the Sabres have done before this season, but on this night, just two days removed from squandering a three-goal lead in Pittsburgh, their response left more to be desired. The Sabres emerged from the first period in a 1-1 tie, but both their coach and their captain saw the early performance as being more uneven than the scored suggested.
"I thought we weren't ready to play the game, that's what it looked like," Bylsma said. "Maybe a little shell-shocked, maybe back on our heels from the previous game."
"We weren't ready right from the start," captain Brian Gionta added. "The first period they took it to us. "We were lucky to come out tied."
Video: BUF Recap: Eichel shines in 6-3 loss to Flyers
The Flyers went on to outscore the Sabres for the remaining 40 minutes of what ended as a 6-3 Philadelphia win. The loss was Buffalo's seventh in eight games, all of which can be attributed to the Sabres deviating at times - be it at the start of the game or while trying to protect a lead - from the simple, offensive-zone style that makes them successful.
"We make the same turnovers that cause us to lose momentum in the game and cause us to play in the D-zone for too long and all of a sudden we're on our heels when we need to be playing it simple and managing the puck," defenseman Cody Franson said. "I think right now we're trying to do a little too much with the puck and in doing so, turning the puck over and playing too much defense because of it."
Such was the case on Philadelphia's first goal of the night. Jack Eichel, who led Buffalo with two goals and an assist on the night, carried the puck into the neutral zone and attempted to beat three defenders in the process. Philadelphia forced a turnover, and seconds later Matt Read opened the scoring.
"You're talking about not being ready to play, our puck management there … We're trying to go through three guys 1-on-3 in the neutral zone, it gets turned over, goes into the D-zone and you get the first one, a tip goal, as the result of exactly that," Bylsma said.
There were moments in the game that seemed like potential momentum shifters for the Sabres, who made a habit of coming back at home earlier in the season. After both of Philadelphia's first two goals, the Sabres responded with power-play goals of their own to tie the game. Evander Kane answered Read's goal in the first, while Eichel answered Radko Gudas' early goal in the second.
Video: PHI@BUF: Kane rips a wrister through screen for PPG
But the switch never flipped all the way. Philadelphia scored the next four goals before Eichel finally found the back of the net again, at which point the game was already out of reach. Robin Lehner allowed all six goals on 30 shots.
There were bad breaks - Jordan Weal had a puck go in off his skate, and Claude Giroux cleaned up a rebound thanks to an odd bounce off of Sabres defenseman Josh Gorges - but even those, Bylsma said, could be attributed to his team's play.
"A lot of those cases we didn't win our battles," Bylsma said. "The plays at the net are unfortunate. You can look at a skate off the third goal and the fourth goal. They're unfortunate type of breaks but they're unfortunate types of breaks where we battle at the net and there's a crowd in front of Robin."
It was still 4-2 when the Sabres came out for the third period, and their first shift suggested a comeback might be in store after some good offensive-zone play led to a chance for Ryan O'Reilly from the slot. It was only 2:45 into the period, however, that Chris VandeVelde extended the Flyers' lead with a shot past a screened Lehner. Travis Konecny capped the scoring for Philadelphia less than three minutes later.
"We've all got to take a look at what we've got to do better," Lehner said. "We don't think this is fun. It's not fun, going into a building and hearing disappointment. It's not what we strive for. We're trying, it's just not working for us right now. There's not much more to add to that."
In spite of their struggles of late, the Sabres still entered the night a mere five points back in the race for the second wild card spot in the Eastern Conference. That's not true anymore; three teams they're chasing - the New York Islanders, Toronto and yes, Philadelphia - all won their games, making the climb that much steeper with 15 games to go.
"It's going to be a challenge for the group," Bylsma said. "I put it out there after the game, we've got two days off and then we get back at it again with 15 to go. We've got to decide how we're going to come back here and play these last 15."
Eichel extends his point streak, scores 100th point
With his three-point night, Eichel extended his point streak to 11 games. It's the longest active streak in the NHL, and tied for the second-longest this season. Minnesota's Mikael Granlund had a 12-game streak that ran through the beginning of February.
His first goal of the night also marked the 100th point of his career, making him the third-youngest Sabre to reach that mark behind only Pierre Turgeon and Phil Housley.
Video: PHI@BUF: Eichel tallies 100th career point with PPG
Eichel has five goals and 11 assists during his current points streak, and his 24 points since Feb. 1 lead the NHL.
The Sabres begin a home-and-home set with the Columbus Blue Jackets at Nationwide Arena on Friday night, with another game between the two teams to follow at KeyBank Center on Saturday. Buffalo and Columbus have not yet met this season.
Coverage on Friday begins at 6:30 p.m. with the Tops Pregame Show on MSG-B, or you can listen live on WGR 550. The puck drops between the Sabres and Blue Jackets at 7 p.m.