If the Buffalo Sabres have learned anything in their preseason slate thus far, it's how much more they have to learn. As the players adjust to a new system under coach Phil Housley, inconsistency plagued the team in a 3-1 loss to the Toronto Maple Leafs at KeyBank Center on Saturday night.
While the experience and talent within the lineups seemed to be tilted in Buffalo's favor, Toronto controlled the opening period for the second night in a row and won the game on a power-play goal by Kasperi Kapanen early in the third.
With the loss, the Sabres fell to 1-2-1 in the preseason.
"I thought our guys competed real hard," Housley said. "When you're implementing new systems, and I know we talked about it, it does take time. And I'm not giving anybody a break here, because they've got to be accountable to the work they put into it.
"We're just going to have to raise our standard as individuals, as a team, and I think they understand that. It's a good group in there."
Video: Condensed Game: Maple Leafs @ Sabres
The Sabres only managed 25 shots on goal, but Housley felt that total was more reflective of their selectiveness than their opportunities. Ironically, it was a puck-to-net mentality that resulted in their only goal of the game, a tip by Hudson Fasching on a Rasmus Ristolainen shot late in the second period.
Fasching's goal tied the game at 1-1 after James van Riemsdyk has scored to give the Maple Leafs an early lead in a lopsided first period.
"The one thing that I can say, I just think we need to get more of a mindset of a shot mentality," Housley said. "I think we're just passing opportunities up to get shots to the net and so much is created from that. The defense has to react to it, you're moving down on it. Things happen, bounces happen."
Robin Lehner played his first complete game of the season for the Sabres, allowing two goals on 32 shots. He said afterward that he felt he played van Riemsdyk's goal, scored on a rebound with Lehner high in the crease, a bit too aggressively. Otherwise, his only blemish was Kapanen's power-play goal in the third. Toronto's third goal was scored on an empty net by Nikita Soshnikov with 1:10 remaining.
"I'm trying to build on some weaknesses from last year, trying to reflect on a few things," Lehner said. "I'm working on it. I thought I was a little too aggressive on the first goal there but I feel a lot faster right now. I feel like I took good decisions today."
Video: LEHNER: Postgame (9/23/17)
Through five periods of work in exhibition games and one week of practice, Housley has been impressed with the effort and attitude of his starting goaltender.
"I think Robin's been great this whole camp," he said. "He was battling for pucks, second chances, rebounds, and he doesn't have quit him in. I like what I'm seeing in the gams. He's competing, he's trying to find pucks, he's on his angles. He's very calm back there. Both the games that he's played in, he's played excellent."
Video: HOUSLEY: Postgame (9/23/17)
For that matter, Lehner too seems encouraged by what he's seen from Housley and his teammates. He echoed his coach's sentiment when asked to analyze the team's performance after the game.
"Listen, we're building as a group here," he said. "We've got a new whole coaching staff with a new system in place. It's the third game of preseason, it's not going to be perfect. We're trying to find our way there and every day we've got to work on it and get there, but it's too early to start with that stuff.
" … All in all, I think it's positive. I think we're working very hard in practices, I think we're pushing each other and I'm excited to keep building."
Fasching makes his case
Video: Hudson Fasching Postgame (9/23/17)
Not only was Fasching's goal an illustration of how the Sabres can be effective, it was an example of how Fasching can best impact an offense. It's important he shows that now as he vies to earn a roster spot in Buffalo out of camp.
"That's how I want to play," Fasching said. "Getting pucks to the net, being in front of the net, trying to tip pucks, looking for rebounds. That's my game."
Fasching was critical of himself after the game, saying he felt he had started slow and needed to bring more consistency. With only two preseason games under his belt, he'll likely get more chances as the regular season nears.
Only two preseason games remain
The Sabres will play their next exhibition game on the road against the Pittsburgh Penguins on Wednesday night. The game will be broadcast on MSG-B and WGR 550, with Rick Jeanneret and Rob Ray on the call. Coverage begins at 6:30 p.m. and the puck drops at 7.