OTTAWA - In a way, the Ottawa Senators might have been the perfect opponent for the Buffalo Sabres to face on Tuesday night. Not only did Buffalo enter the game with a 3-0-1 record against their divisional opponent this season, Sam Reinhart made a point after the game about how Ottawa's aggressiveness forces the Sabres out of their own bad habits.
"I think they're so aggressive all over the ice, it kind of forces us to be smart," Reinhart said. "It forces us to kind of put it behind them. I think we can get more consistent at it against other teams because it's been giving us success."
Playing smart and putting pucks behind the defense has been the primary topic of conversation surrounding the Sabres since their loss to Vancouver on Sunday and, save for a six-minute stretch to end the second period, they did both of those things in their 3-2 win over the Senators on Tuesday.
The Sabres trailed 2-1 entering the third period, but Matt Moulson scored to tie the game on one of the first shifts of the third and Justin Bailey tipped a goal past Ottawa goalie Craig Anderson that stood as the game winner with 12:22 remaining.
"I think for us we came in the second and we weren't discouraged," Bailey said. "We knew that the game was right there, we had been doing good things all night. We just stuck to our game plan."
After dealing with adversity following their loss on Sunday, the Sabres wasted little time in establishing their game. Ryan O'Reilly opened the scoring for Buffalo on a one-time feed from Kyle Okposo on the very first shift of the game, just 24 seconds after the opening puck drop.
Video: BUF@OTT: O'Reilly nets one-timer 24 seconds into game
Bobby Ryan tipped in an Erik Karlsson prior to the first intermission, bringing the Sabres into the second period with the score tied 1-1. Second periods have been Buffalo's Achilles heel this season; they've struggled with the long change and have gotten stuck for long stretches in their own zone as a result. For the majority of the second period on Tuesday, it seemed they'd eliminated those mistakes.
In the last six minutes of the period, however, things changed drastically. The Sabres got hemmed in their own zone, and when they finally went to change they gave up the go-ahead goal to Ottawa's Dion Phaneuf. Twenty-two seconds after Phaneuf scored, Ottawa earned a power play when Zach Bogosian was called for high-sticking.
When all was said and done, Ottawa had outshot Buffalo 14-0 in the final 5:52 of the period.
"I thought the first 10, 11 minutes of the second period was the best we've played in the second period in a long time," Sabres coach Dan Bylsma said. "Right about the eight-minute mark, we had a shift where we got out too long, got stuck out there, take a penalty, give up a goal and now we're on the back side going into the third period.
"Our talk coming out in the third was a situation where we thought we could win, we've proven we could come back."
The Sabres did have another comeback in them, and it began right at the outset of the period. Jack Eichel carried the puck deep to the net, creating a rebound opportunity for Reinhart on the rush. Reinhart's put-back attempt bounced high, and Moulson pushed the puck past the line to tie the game just 51 seconds into the period.
Video: BUF@OTT: Moulson knocks puck in out of midair
"At that point," Bylsma said, "it was just who was going to get the next one."
Based on the way he'd been playing as of late, the fact that the answer to the question was Bailey may not have come as a surprise. The speed he's displayed on the ice since his most recent recall earned him a promotion to play with O'Reilly and Okposo in recent games, and he showed it again on his way to taking four shots in in 14:01 of ice time on Tuesday.
"I think that's something that I'm trying to do every single night," Bailey said. "I think in call-ups before there was nights where I did that and there was nights where I wasn't and that's not good enough to stay up. For me, this call-up, I've been doing the most to have my feet going and I think I'm a better player when my feet are going."
Video: BUF@OTT: Bailey deflects home go-ahead goal in 3rd
He was rewarded when he scored the game-winning goal, a mid-air deflection of a Jake McCabe shot. Ottawa was able to generate some opportunities from that point on, but Robin Lehner protected Buffalo's 3-2 on his way to a 39-save victory over his former team.
Video: BUF@OTT: Lehner closes the pads to shut down Hoffman
Lehner improved to 4-0-2 in eight career appearances against Ottawa with a .959 save percentage and 1.30 goals-against average, according to Sabres PR.
"When they had that flurry there in the third period I thought he directed the puck away from them," Bylsma said of his goaltender. "He made a save and directed it away and gave us a chance to make a clear and came up strong for us."
The win was a step in the right direction for the Sabres, but it was also the continuation of a pattern - they've alternated wins and losses every game in the month of February so far. Until they start stringing wins together to climb back into the playoff race (they remain five points back from Toronto), they won't be happy.
"We're not satisfied at all," O'Reilly said. "It's one game and we have to string a bunch together here. Our consistency has been terrible and we're not happy by any means here. We have to prove to each other every night that we're a team that can contend."
Okposo extends point streak
Okposo's assist on O'Reilly's goal to start the game extended his season-best point streak to seven games (3+4).
Moulson's goal, meanwhile, gives him 22 points this season, already surpassing his total from 2015-16.
The Sabres have three home games remaining prior to their bye week, beginning when they host the Colorado Avalanche at KeyBank Center on Thursday night. It will be the first of two matchups between the two teams this season, with the second to follow in Colorado on Feb. 25.
The game on Thursday can be seen live on NBSCN or heard on WGR 550, with puck drop set for 7:30 p.m,