Matt Moulson was a pre-game scratch and both Patrick Kaleta and Tyler Myers left the game in the second period as the Sabres’ saw their six-game home winning streak snapped on Saturday night in a 5-1 loss to Colorado at First Niagara Center.
Johan Larsson scored his first career goal late in the third period to spoil Colorado’s opportunity at a shutout. Erik Johnson, Cody McLeod, Alex Tanguay and John Mitchell each scored for the Avalanche; Tanguay contributed a second goal with an empty net and under one minute to play.
More pressing than the Sabres lack of scoring, however, was the absence of three players who began the day expecting to play. Moulson was the first to go, sidelined by “flu-like symptoms” just hours before puck drop. The Sabres called up Larsson from Rochester to fill the spot vacated by Moulson just before 5 p.m. The young forward didn’t even arrive in time for warm-ups.
Moulson wasn’t the only Sabre struck by illness. Kaleta felt the same symptoms during the day but played into the second, and was removed after his first shift of the period. Nolan said that the team will make at least one more call up prior to Sunday’s game in Boston with Kaleta unable to make the trip and others in the locker room under the weather.
With the NHL currently in the midst of a mumps outbreak, Nolan was unsure whether or not the disease had found its way into the Sabres locker room.
“Like I said, I’m not too sure,” Nolan said.“The medical team will look at that. Right now they’re just flu-like symptoms I guess. A few guys were feeling that way.”
Myers is questionable to play against Boston after sustaining a lower-body injury midway through the second period. The combination of illness and injury comes at an especially bad time for an already depleted Sabres roster playing without forwards Torrey Mitchell and Cody McCormick and defensemen Tyson Strachan and Mike Weber.
Buffalo needed to get creative to compensate. Former defenseman-turned-forward Nicolas Deslauriers contributed minutes on defense following the injury to Myers, and the team’s lone goal was scored by an anxious forward who woke up thinking he was going to be playing in Rochester.
“Anytime a kid scores his first NHL goal you’ve gotta be happy for him,” Nolan said of Larsson, who arrived at the arena with two minutes remaining in warm-ups.” Under those circumstances he played well.”
While excited about the goal, Larsson wished the circumstances were different.
“You want to have it in a win,” he said. “Nice to see it go in, but tough loss obviously.”
Both Larsson and Mikhail Grigorenko, who has been called up twice in the past week, will remain with the Sabres for the contest against Boston. Buffalo will follow back-to-back games with just one day off before a Tuesday night contest in Detroit.
“It is disappointing, but we’ve got to move forward. We’ve got a quick turnaround,” said Tyler Ennis, who played in his 300th- career NHL game on Saturday. “We’ve got a little break at Christmas time so nothing to save it for. It’s a big game and we’ve got to go pick up two points tomorrow.”
Colorado’s goal on a Sabres’ power play in the first period marked the fifth shorthanded goal that Buffalo has allowed this season and the second in as many games. That number put the Sabres atop the NHL in shorthanded goals against, tied with Edmonton, Toronto and Pittsburgh.
Nikita Zadorov turned the puck over against the wall at the Sabres’ blue line, allowing Colorado’s Ryan O’Reilly to break towards the net and feed Cody McLeod for a tip-in goal. Michael Frolik scored shorthanded on a 2-on-1 for the Jets following a turnover at the blue line when the Sabres played in Winnipeg on Tuesday night.
While injuries certainly didn’t help the Sabres, Ennis saw their struggles on special teams as a key reason for the loss.
“Yeah, a little bit of the injury bug right now,” he said. “Like I said, a couple turnovers cost us. The majority of the game we played pretty well but against an offensive team like that you can’t turn the puck over; you can’t give up shorthanded goals.”
The Sabres struggled all around on special teams Saturday. In addition to McLeod’s shorthanded goal, they allowed a power play goal to Mitchell in the third period. Buffalo failed to score on any of their own four power plays.
Saturday’s loss marked their eighth-consecutive loss to the Avalanche, their longest drought against any opponent. Buffalo’s last win over Colorado came in a 6-4 victory on Dec. 4, 2005. Chris Drury and Mike Grier had goals in that game for the Sabres.
Four of the Sabres seven-straight losses against Colorado we’re decided in either overtime or a shootout. This one was marked by lost players and missed opportunities.
“They’re a very skilled team; give them a chance and they’re going to put them in,” Nolan said. “The scary part is, I liked our first period except that we made a couple crucial mistakes and they capitalized on it.”