scored a power-play goal with 45 seconds left to play to make it close, but it was already too late for the Sabres to come all the way back in a 4-3 loss to the New Jersey Devils on Saturday night at First Niagara center.
Evander Kane left the ice after a check by Devils defenseman David Schlemko forced his knee awkwardly into the boards in the third period. Kane was able to skate off of the ice with assistance but did not return. Sabres coach Dan Bylsma had no further update after the game.
Buffalo also played without forward Marcus Foligno, who is day-to-day with a lower-body injury that Bylsma said he sustained early in Friday’s game against Montreal. All in all, it was a frustrating day for a Sabres team still learning to win.
“It’s hugely disappointing,” Bylsma said. “There are a lot of things we can look at to say we’re doing some good things but we’re not getting the results, we’re not getting the wins and that’s hugely disappointing.”
It was a tale of two extremes on the power play for the Sabres. All three of the Sabres’ goals, including Eichel’s, came as a result of having the man advantage. Tyler Ennis opened the scoring on the power play and Ryan O’Reilly – while it is technically ruled an even-strength goal – scored just as Adam Larsson was stepping out of the penalty box.
On their fourth power play, however, they allowed Devils forward Adam Henrique to break away for a shorthanded goal that ultimately proved to be the difference in the game.
“I bobbled it and should have just shot it in. They go on a breakaway and score and its game over,” Ennis said. “That’s on me, it’s a tough one.”
Henrique scored twice and added an assist for the Devils, who won their fourth-straight game. Schlemko and Mike Cammalleri also added goals, while goaltender Cory Schneider was 26-29 on save opportunities for New Jersey.
Playing in his NHL debut, Sabres goaltender Linus Ullmark stopped 24 of 28 shots in an up-and-down performance. Bylsma said that Ullmark looked like an NHL goaltender, but was disappointed in the timing of the goals he allowed. Ullmark gave up a goal each in the final minutes of the first and second periods, first on a loose puck in front of the net that was buried by Henrique and then on a shot by Schlemko that went five-hole.
“I’m not really happy with that one, I feel like I can take that one 9 out of 10 shots,” Ullmark said of Schlemko’s goal. “I feel like I have some things I need to work on, like my quickness and my feet, but overall I’m kind of happy with my game.”
HOLDING THE LEAD
Buffalo jumped out to one-goal leads twice against the Devils, but couldn’t hold onto the lead either time.
First, Henrique’s goal with 50 seconds remaining in the first tied the game at one. Then, after O’Reilly’s goal regained the lead for Buffalo, Cammalleri and Schlemko each scored to turn the gain in New Jersey’s favor. Schlemko’s goal, a product of two back-and-forth cross-ice passes, came with 51 seconds to play in the second.
“We’ve got to take the positives out of stretches in the game we had leads, we just didn’t hang onto it,” Ennis said. “We’ve got to work on that, we’ll learn from it and we’ll get better from it.”
“I think we just need to bear down on our own chances, we’re getting a lot,” Eichel said. “It seems like we’re right there but at the end of the day right there is not enough. I think we’ve got to dig a little bit deeper.”
Bylsma said that he saw the second period as the turning point in the game.
“I thought we didn’t do a very good job in the first part of the second period with the puck,” Bylsma said. “We had some turnovers and some opportunities to play with it in the offensive zone that we turned over.
“… It didn’t work out for us and I thought that was where the control of the game turned. We had the lead at that time, we were in the game, they didn’t take the play to us but the game went 50/50 at that time. If we can get out of the second period with a lead, it’s maybe a different story.”
BLINDED BY REINHART
Sam Reinhart has excelled on the power play all season with his play near the crease, including against New Jersey. Reinhart was in front of the net screening Schneider on both of the Sabres’ first two goals.
Ennis’ goal nearly mirrored his only other time scoring this season, which also came on the power play on Oct. 15 against Florida. In both situations, Reinhart blocked the opposing goaltender’s line of sight to allow Ennis to fire a slap shot into the back of the net.
Reinhart set the screen on another Ennis shot in the second period just as a power play expired for the Sabres. This time, the puck bounced off of Schneider’s right pad and O’Reilly was able to bury the rebound to give Buffalo a 2-1 lead.
“It’s why he’s there,” Bylsma said. “The continuation of a faceoff play on a power play, we know the puck’s getting there and I’m not sure – that was a good shot by Tyler, it was a good goal, but I’m not sure it has any chance of going in if we don’t have a guy or two guys in front of the net and Sam’s a guy there for that … We’ve scored, now it’s five goals or six goals because Sam’s in front of the goalie’s eyes.”
HOCKEY FIGHTS CANCER
A special moment took place on the ice prior to the game as the Sabres welcomed guests from Carly’s Club for a ceremonial puck drop. The moment was a part of the team’s Hockey Fights Cancer Night presented by Roswell Park Cancer Institute.
Carly’s Club is a program at Roswell that provides supports for children with cancer and fundraises for pediatric cancer research. One-by-one, the children passed the puck up towards center ice to drop the puck between Sabres captain Brian Gionta and Devils captain Andy Greene.
Matthew Eggers, a young boy who Eichel met on a tour of Roswell Park after he signed with the Sabres in July, dropped the puck after Eichel led him hand-in-hand to center ice.
“It was emotional,” Eichel said. “It was a great ceremony, great to see all of the kids enjoying it and I felt a little bit of a relationship with some of them, Matthew especially, so it was awesome to see him out there dropping the puck and yeah I was a little emotional for him, that was really cool.”
The puck drop was just one of several moments that came in support of the fight against cancer on Saturday night. In the third period, fans throughout the arena held up placards on which they wrote who they were fighting for and, in warmups, Sabres players wore special pink and purple jerseys.
Those jerseys are being auctioned online at auctions.nhl.com as well as other unique autographed Sabres merchandise. All proceeds will benefit Roswell Park Cancer institute.
“My moment tonight was not about the game. It was about the spirit, the compassion, and the love that we witnessed throughout the evening. Hockey Fights Cancer, an NHL initiative, has made a huge difference in communities across North America and in the lives of so many. The game of hockey should be proud to be able to make such a profound difference.” – Brad May, Sabres Studio Analyst
FLYING TO PHILLY
The Sabres return to the ice when they begin a two-game road trip on Tuesday night against the Flyers in Philadelphia. Coverage begins at 6:30 p.m. on MSG-B and Bell TV. The game can also be heard live on WGR 550. Puck drop is scheduled for 7 p.m.