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Sabres say puck management to blame in loss to Sharks

by Jourdon LaBarber @jourdonlabarber / Sabres.com

SAN JOSE - If you only watched the goals from the game between the Buffalo Sabres and San Jose Sharks on Tuesday night, you might chalk up Buffalo's 4-1 loss to a couple of bad bounces. The Sharks took the lead on an own goal by Buffalo's leading scorer, after all, and got another off an odd tip over Sabres goalie Robin Lehner.

But the story of the game wasn't as much the manner with which the goals were scored as much as it was the way the Sharks outplayed the Sabres, thus creating more opportunities to earn those breaks. San Jose took 41 shots, including 36 in the first two periods, as opposed to Buffalo's 23. 

 "You get what you deserve in this League," Sabres goalie Robin Lehner said. "We didn't deserve to win that game and be in that game. You create your own bounces by how you play. That's why they won."

"The score is indicative of the game," coach Dan Bylsma added. 

Video: BUF Recap: Strong Lehner not enough in Sabres' loss

The shot totals tend to be an indication of how a team manages the puck, and the Sabres admitted afterward that their own mismanagement played right into San Jose's strength, which is the transition game. Eventually, the Sharks' skill took over: Joe Pavelski, who entered the game with five goals in his last four contests, scored twice while Brent Burns had a game-high 15 shot attempts.

Still, the Sabres did hold a 1-0 lead at one point on the strength of Jack Eichel's first-period goal and even carried it into the second thanks to more stellar play from Lehner, who made 30 saves before Pavelski finally scored on the power play with 8:13 remaining in the period. 

"I thought he was the best player on the ice in the first two periods," Bylsma said of his goaltender. "They had some good scoring opportunities, some good chances in the first, and continued that in the second period with their power plays. He was up to the task, made a ton of good saves for us and kind of had the feeling of, just give him a chance and he was going to steal the game for us."

Video: BUF@SJS: Lehner cuts down the angle for glove save

The Sharks got the go-ahead goal with 49.4 seconds remaining in the second period when Cody Franson attempted a short breakout pass to Eichel down low. Michael Haley challenged the pass for San Jose, and the puck deflected off of Eichel's stick and between Lehner's pads.

"It's just a real tough bounce," Eichel said. "Franny's making a good play to me in front of the net, we're trying to break the puck out. I end up hitting it on my back skate and it goes through Lenny's legs. That one hurts a lot."

"It was a play that we had recently been working on in practice, just trying to hit that little center support guy," Franson added. "I didn't think Haley was really in a position to do much and Eichs was kind of right in that area. It's unfortunate, I mean Eichs makes that play 99 times out of 100. The ice was pretty soft, pucks were bouncing around. Those are ones you just chalk up to bad luck."

You could see Eichel working to make up for the misplay in the third period, and he created two of Buffalo's best chances on the night. Ironically, both of those chances immediately preceded goals for the Sharks. A breakaway attempt for Eichel came seconds before Pavelski scored his second goal of the night, and a 3-on-2 chance for the Sabres ended with Logan Couture tipping a puck off of Lehner's stick the other way, sending the puck high over the goaltender and into the net.

Either of those plays could have been goals for the Sabres. But it was the overall play against the reigning Western Conference champions that left Buffalo having to count on breaks.

"The more time you spend in your end the more odds of a bad bounce you get," Lehner said. "I think we lived in our end for the first two periods and they lived in our end until they got their 3-1 goal and then they went in to shut the game down."

Notes and numbers

With his goal in the first period, Eichel now has points in each of his last three games and 14 of his last 15. He also has 20 goals on the season, making him the eighth player to reach that mark in both of his first two NHL seasons and the first since Thomas Vanek.

Video: BUF@SJS: Moulson, Eichel combine for opening goal

Matt Moulson earned the assist on Eichel's goal, giving him points in four of his last five games, including the last three.

 

Up next

The next stop for the Sabres on their California road trip will be in Los Angeles, where they'll meet the Kings at Staples Center on Thursday night. Buffalo won the first meeting between the two teams on Dec. 13. 

Coverage on Thursday begins at 10 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 Kings at 10:30.

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