There are certain aspects of the Buffalo Sabres' loss in Pittsburgh on Sunday evening that would seem to set it apart from their other losses since the bye week. Yes, they squandered a third-period lead as they had done against Arizona and Nashville, but they also had a season-high 49 shots and several chances to extend their lead.
Talking to the Sabres themselves, however, you get the sense that those three losses are one in the same. The players who have spoken since the game ended in Pittsburgh - Jack Eichel, Anders Nilsson, Evander Kane, Josh Gorges and Rasmus Ristolainen - have all said the same thing. They believe they took their foot off the pedal.
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The question of why it happened, the same way it happened against the Coyotes and Predators before, is one they're still trying to answer.
"It's hard to say one exact reason as to why," Gorges said. "I believe sometimes when you get a lead, you start to play a little safe. And that's not how our team is successful. I'm not saying we should go out there and take chances; we don't need to score another goal to win. We just need to not let them score.
"But we're good when we're on the forecheck, we make teams turn pucks over and we get sustained offensive-zone time. When we play back and we get on the wrong side of pucks, we give the team were playing against opportunities and sometimes it just gives them life, it gives them momentum, it gives them a chance to breathe. We can't allow teams to breathe."
In turn, the Sabres find themselves with less and less of their own breathing room in the standings. Had they even won two of those games they squandered leads in, they could be sitting one or two points back from a playoff berth.
Instead, Buffalo sits five points behind the New York Islanders, who have two games in hand. It can be looked at in a positive light - the fact that their opposition has also struggled as of late means they're still within earshot - but the Sabres see it more as a missed opportunity.
"I don't know, I think we've played [six] games since the break," Kane said. "We could easily be 6-0 if you look at the scenarios we've been in. Disappointing, that's one word to use."
"Why would you play if you don't hate losing?" Ristolainen said. "It's the worst thing, that you could lose to someone and someone is better than you. Like last night, they won so I guess they were better and I hate that feeling, for sure."
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Sabres coach Dan Bylsma said he expects the loss to sting, given the circumstances. But the Sabres have a quick turnaround before they'll have to respond. Their opponent at KeyBank Center on Tuesday, the Philadelphia Flyers, sits two points ahead of them with two games in hand.
"It should be painful," Bylsma added. "One we've got to learn and get better from as a result. We've been able to respond the next game in a number of those games. We have to do the same thing."
It's now been over a month since William Carrier was diagnosed with a bone bruise in his knee, an injury that's since kept him off the ice. Bylsma said the injury is not one that surgery could fix; rather, the Sabres are forced to play the waiting game as Carrier continues to rest and recover.
Bylsma used a metaphor to explain Carrier's current state.
"We'll pretend for a second that you're a golfer, and you take a divot, and every time you move you continue to take a swing at the same divot over and over and over again," he said. "That's what happened for him, and now it has to heal. We'd like him to move around and do so but every time you do, you're on the same spot."
Bylsma also said that Dmitry Kulikov, who is day-to-day with an upper-body injury, will miss his second game in a row on Tuesday and confirmed that Johan Larsson, out since Jan. 3 after undergoing surgery on a dislocated wrist, will not return this season.