LAS VEGAS - It almost made for a remarkable comeback. Evander Kane scored with 8.9 seconds in regulation to cap a three-goal, third-period comeback for the Buffalo Sabres, only to see David Perron score in overtime to clinch a 5-4 victory for the Vegas Golden Knights at T-Mobile Arena on Tuesday night.
But for all of the positives to be drawn from the Sabres' late-game effort, Phil Housley was more concerned with what happened early.
"I think it's just unacceptable the way we approached the game," Housley said. "We had a chance to build on something and I know this is a process, but the process was a little broken tonight. Our lack of preparation and accountability, and urgency to start the game the way we finished was lacking."
Video: BUF@VGK: Kane bats in the late game-tying goal
Having finally won their first game of the season in Anaheim on Sunday night, the Sabres came into the night knowing how hard they'd have to compete against an expansion team in the Golden Knights that had started their season 4-1-0, built mostly on hard work and intensity.
Buffalo played that way in the third period. Their tenacity led to three penalties drawn, and they converted on their chances. Ryan O'Reilly began to chip away at a 4-1 deficit by roofing his second goal of the night early in a 5-on-3 power play, and Sam Reinhart set the stage for Kane's goal by tipping a shot at the net-front with 1:58 on the clock.
Video: BUF@VGK: O'Reilly nets a pair of power-play goals
Video: BUF@VGK: Reinhart redirects shot for PPG
"I think we just played the game the way we needed to play," Kane said. "Unfortunately, it took until the third period to get into the right mindset as a group: to put pcuks on net, to forecheck with five, to get our D going down aggressive, having a good F3 so our D can get aggressive down the walls.
"We were able to basically play in their zone the entire period. And when we were moving our feet and not being slow like we were in the second, we were able to draw some penalties and capitalize on the man advantage."
But for everything the Sabres did well in the third, the opposite could be said for the second. Vegas drew four penalties in that period, three of which were drawn by former Sabre William Carrier, and scored a pair of goals thanks to their presence at the net-front.
Vegas broke a 1-1 when Alex Tuch, left unattended, tipped a point shot past Johnson, and Tuch was again in front of the net when Rielly Smith scored on the power play with 1:23 left in the period.
"It was a tough game," Sabres goalie Chad Johnson, who made 26 saves, said. "You've got to tip your hat to them. They came hard at us and got bodies to the net, and they got a lot of pressure on us and got some power plays out of it. It was a difficult game right from the start to the end."
The Sabres actually scored first in the game, when O'Reilly scored on the power play 6:24 into the contest. After that, Kane said, they took their foot off the gas. Oscar Lindberg capitalized on a neutral-zone turnover to tie the game late in the first period, and then the Golden Knights went to work.
Housley could have focused on the comeback and the silver lining of gaining a point in the standings. Instead, he said he made it clear to his players afterward that they had gotten the decision they deserved.
"I just think it's a mindset," Housley said. "It's how you approach it. We can't keep chasing games right now. We have to be ready to start the game and have that aggression in the first period. We've had it at times. I think we had it in Anaheim, but we lacked it tonight."
Girgensons leaves with injury
Zemgus Girgensons left the game after blocking a shot during a penalty kill in the first period. On that same kill, Marco Scandella blocked a shot and seemed to be in some discomfort, but was stranded as the Sabres were pinned in their zone. Both Scandella and Girgensons were on the ice for all but 13 seconds of the penalty kill.
Scandella remained in the game without missing a shift, but Girgensons did not return. Housley said afterward that he is day-to-day.
The Sabres are already without Jacob Josefson, who is day-to-day after sustaining a lower-body injury in Anaheim on Sunday.
The Sabres return home to KeyBank Center to host the Vancouver Canucks on Friday night. The game will mark the first leg of a back-to-back set, with the Sabres heading out to play in Boston on Saturday.
Coverage on Friday begins at 6:30 p.m. with GMC Gamenight on MSG-B, or you can listen live on WGR 550. The puck drops at 7 p.m.