ST. LOUIS - An early deficit proved insurmountable for the Buffalo Sabres in a 5-1 loss to the St. Louis Blues on Thursday at Enterprise Center.
Sabres coach Ralph Krueger had emphasized the importance of starting strong against a St. Louis team that entered the night with a 19-0-5 record when scoring first. The Blues struck quickly, however, taking the lead on a Robert Thomas goal just 4:47 into the contest.
Thomas assisted on a goal from Tyler Bozak later in the period to make it 2-0. The two linemates finished the night with three points each.
"It was definitely not the look we wanted after five minutes and breaking down as we did there was very disappointing," Krueger said. "It looked like we had trouble getting up to the speed that we needed to in the first period."
Video: BUF Recap: Eichel scores in 5-1 loss to Blues
Jack Eichel scored the lone goal for the Sabres, which cut the deficit in half early in the second period. The Blues never relented, responding first with a power-play goal from David Perron later in the period and then with a pair of markers from Alexander Steen in the third.
It was the sort of persistent, grinding game that newly acquired forward Michael Frolik came to expect from the reigning Stanley Cup champions during his time in the Western Conference.
"It's always a lot of battles there and they play the right way," Frolik said. "It's never easy against them. … You need to play the ugly game and be kind of patient. When you're behind them, when they're up, they even tighten up more defensively and it's not easy to beat them."
Part of the focus afterward was on the Sabres' lack of offensive chances. They were outshot, 30-19, and Krueger stressed the need both for more volume and additional net-front presence in the coming weeks while Jeff Skinner and Victor Olofsson recover from injuries.
"One is everybody needs to get hungrier to shoot on net," Krueger said. "I think we still give up too many opportunities, our D and our forwards, to try to make a play. And the other thing will be to get bodies there. There was opportunity around the net where we didn't stick around.
"So, those two components, with Ollie and Skins out, we need to find other ways to create net pressure. We're going to have to work hard on that to turn this result around on Saturday against Vancouver. We don't have a lot of time and it's going to be one of the main focuses, to create more net pressure."
Video: POSTGAME: Krueger
The Sabres were coming off a four-day break between games, their first such stretch since returning from Sweden in mid-November. There will be no such time to dwell after this one, with back-to-back games against Vancouver and Detroit due up on Saturday and Sunday.
"It's important, I think right now, that we just concentrate on the next one, on the next challenge, and that's Vancouver," Krueger said. We need to get a rhythm here of getting at least two wins every three games for a while to push ourselves back into the race.
"We know that exists, but at the same time we are here to continue to grow this group and deal with the adversity that we have right now. No excuses, we need to get back to our game at home on Saturday."
Eichel stays hot
The four-day layover had no effect on Eichel, who extended his point streak to five games. His goal was his 27th in 43 games this season, already just one shy of matching his career high.
The play began with a stretch pass from Rasmus Dahlin to Sam Reinhart, who then delivered a one-touch pass to Eichel as he entered the zone. Eichel squeezed by defenseman Vince Dunn as he wrapped behind the St. Louis net, then buried his shot from the high slot.
Video: BUF@STL: Eichel wheels around the zone to net beauty
Frolik, Pilut join the lineup
The game was Frolik's first as a member of the Sabres. Defenseman Lawrence Pilut, meanwhile, made his season debut after spending the first three months of the season in Rochester.
Frolik, who was acquired from Calgary last Thursday, skated 16:44 with two shots and three hits and drew a high-sticking penalty in the third period. It was his highest ice time since Nov. 21, also against St. Louis.
Video: POSTGAME: Frolik
Pilut skated 19:42, fourth on the team behind Eichel, Sam Reinhart, and defense partner Rasmus Ristolainen.
The Sabres return home to host the Vancouver Canucks on Saturday afternoon. Coverage on MSG begins at 12:30, or you can listen to the game on WGR 550. Puck drop is scheduled for 1.