If there was any one moment that told the story of the game between the Buffalo Sabres and San Jose Sharks on Saturday afternoon, it may have been the expression on Jack Eichel's face after he missed a one-timer from in front of the net midway through the third period.
The one-time opportunity came from point-blank range, and could have broken a 2-2 tie. But the puck ran up on Eichel's stick, and after both his shot and Evander Kane's put-back attempt were unsuccessful, he looked toward the ceiling in frustration.
"I think that that's kind of the story of the game," Eichel said. "They get some good bounces and the puck bounces the opposite way for us."
The only major differences between the two teams in an eventual 3-2 loss for the Sabres may have been the breaks and the ability to capitalize on scoring opportunities. A game that seemed evenly-contested throughout came down to a top-shelf goal scored by Logan Couture with 3:52 remaining.
Video: EICHEL: Postgame
The Sabres, meanwhile, had a goal from Eichel called back for goaltender interference in the first period. They had a puck stopped directly in front of the goal line by the outstretched stick of Aaron Dell in the second. In the third, they twice saw loose pucks bounce around in the San Jose crease without actually bouncing into the net.
The missed chances made it a tough loss to swallow, given the fact that they were otherwise proud of the performance they put forth.
"It's easy to get negative about our guys, because of our record," Sabres coach Phil Housley said. "But I think you look at our effort, you look at the way we played the game tonight, and it comes down to a mistake.
"I have to give our guys a lot of credit. They did everything but win tonight. We certainly would've liked to get into overtime and see where that took us, but we didn't … I thought our guys played very hard, competed, we out-chanced them. Could we have scored more goals? Could we have gotten into the front of the net a little bit more? Yes. But I can't erase the effort that our guys brought today."
Video: HOUSLEY: Postgame
The Sabres were able to erase a 1-0 deficit in the second period and took the lead on the strength of goals from Ryan O'Reilly and Jason Pominville. O'Reilly tied the game with the Sabres on their fourth power play of the afternoon, sending a shot across the net and into the far-side corner.
Pominville scored his sixth goal of the season to give the Sabres the lead with 5:09 remaining in the period thanks to a short feed from Eichel. But the Sharks came back with a push, and Chris Tierney buried a loose puck into an open cage with to tie the game with 11.6 seconds remaining.
Video: SJS@BUF: Pominville quickly buries Eichel's nice dish
The Sabres outshot the Sharks 11-7 in the third but couldn't manage to get one past Dell, who made 31 saves.
Robin Lehner made 28 saves in net for the Sabres.
"We did a lot of good things," Pominville said. "That's the frustrating part. We did a lot of good things and we competed, we got some looks. When you're on a roll and you're winning a lot of games, a game like today is probably a game that you find a way to win."
With the first month of their season now behind them, the Sabres sit at 3-7-2 with eight points in the standings. There's been highs and lows for a team looking to integrate several new pieces, as well as a brand new system under Housley.
Eichel emphasized that the season is still young, and Housley said he's seen strides since the team began a four-game road trip in San Jose on Oct. 12. His goal now is to convince his players that if they continue to play the way they did on Saturday, then the results will come.
"We have a long way to go," Housley said. "It's very, very evident; it says it in our record. But I think if you go back, the body of work that we started in San Jose, I think that was a turning point for us and right now, here we sit 3-3-1 [since]. We're still learning as a group. This group is learning to win. I believe they've taken steps in the right direction.
"If we continue to work that way, we're going to get our results."
Upon further review
Eichel appeared to tie the game with a power-play goal late in the first period on a shot from the left faceoff circle, but it was overturned after a lengthy challenge for goaltender interference. The officials ruled that Sam Reinhart impeded Dell's ability to make the save by hitting his pad as he skated through the crease.
A full explanation can be found in the Tweet below.
The overwhelming feeling in the dressing room was that while Reinhart did make contact with Dell's pad, the goalie had still been able to recover and reposition himself before Eichel took his shot.
"The rule's there to put into place if the goalie can recover on the next play, that it should be a goal," Reinhart said. "In my eyes and our eyes, he got himself back in and it went through him, so it's a little tough to swallow."
Housley said he could see an argument for either side.
"I think if Sam is outside the blue paint I think that call goes in a different direction," he said. "I can disagree with that all I want, but I think if we were to call that, we'd probably want the call to go the same way for us. It's unfortunate. I thought he had time to reset, but since the initial contact came within the paint so they definitely have an argument."
A power-play reunion
After beginning the game with O'Reilly and Eichel on separate power-play units, Housley made a switch after a 0-for-2 start to the night. Namely, he reunited the unit that drove the NHL's top-ranked power play last season, one that consisted of Eichel, O'Reilly, Reinhart, Kyle Okposo and Rasmus Ristolainen.
The unit responded first with Eichel's non-goal, and then with some good passing to set up O'Reilly's goal. The play began as Eichel drew the attention of three Sharks as he crossed the blue line. He dumped the puck off to Reinhart, who made a good pass across the zone to Okposo.
Okposo quickly fed an oncoming O'Reilly, who had room to shoot:
Video: SJS@BUF: O'Reilly rips slap shot past Dell for PPG
"I just felt that at that point we needed a big boost," Housley said. "I thought they were ready to get back together, and we get a big power-play goal from that group. It was just a decision spur of the moment decision, but I thought it was time to get those guys back together."
"I think we have to earn that right, to go out there together," Eichel added. "We haven't been doing too well this year. Coach makes a quick change in-game and I thought we went out there on the same page. We knew we needed to outwork the penalty kill and just get back to what made us successful, and I thought we did it."
The Sabres will open a two-game road trip against the Arizona Coyotes on Thursday night. Coverage begins at 9:30 p.m. with GMC Gamenight on MSG-B, or you can listen live on WGR 550. The puck drops at 10 p.m.