If there were lessons to be learned for the young Sabres in their two games at the Prospects Challenge, they certainly learned them the hard way. A game full of costly penalties found them in a hole that even a late two-goal surge couldn't dig them out of in a 4-3 loss to the Boston Bruins on Monday.
The loss was the second in as many games for the Sabres.
"We had a push in the last five minutes," Rochester Americans coach Dan Lambert said afterward. "At the end of the day, when you play for five minutes you don't win too many games."
Buffalo trailed 4-1 when Alexander Nylander scored to light a fire under the Sabres with 2:33 remaining in the contest. Nylander helped out with a secondary assist on Brendan Guhle's goal less than a minute later to bring the Sabres within one, but their comeback effort stopped there.
The Sabres struggled to develop any flow or consistency prior to those final minutes due to the same combination of penalties and turnovers that held them back in their 6-3 loss to the New Jersey Devils on Saturday.
Buffalo took nine penalties and allowed eight power play opportunities for the Bruins, two of which turned into Boston goals. Lambert was not only dissatisfied with the frequency of the penalties, but also with the quality of them.
"When you look at the penalties, a lot of them were stick penalties which, in my opinion, those are lazy penalties," Lambert said. "When you take lazy penalties you're not going to have a lot of success. If you're going to run a guy through those boards, typically you'll kill those off."
Boston jumped out to a 3-0 lead in the first period on the strength of goals from Peter Cehlarik, Jake DeBrusk and Sean Kuraly. Justin Bailey scored just 90 seconds into the second period to cut the deficit, but another penalty later in the period - to Hudson Fasching, for slashing - opened the door for Jesse Gabrielle to score for the Bruins and restore their three-goal lead.
"I think part of it is when you get behind you get angry, you get aggressive and you kind of keep digging yourself in a bigger whole," Fasching said. "I definitely think that happened to us and it happened to me personally too."
Sabres goalie Jason Kasdorf played well enough to hold the Bruins at four, making 29 saves total, but the Sabres' struggles passing the puck prevented them from developing a flow to their game.
"Our passing is something we certainly have to improve on," Lambert said. "Making a pass isn't difficult, but you need to have pride in passing and I don't think the pride is there. We're just satisfied to shovel" - Lambert hesitated before choosing his language - "crap over to our linemates and let him figure it out and it's not good enough."
An exhale for Nylander
Nylander showed off the skill that made him the No. 8 selection in the draft by the Sabres with his goal in the third period, cutting to the middle and scoring on a snipe past Boston goalie Dan Vladar. It was the first goal in two games for Nylander, who had struggled prior.
"You could tell that he was a frustrated young man and I'm sure it felt good for him to score that goal," Lambert said. "Then you saw his ability to pass the puck on the other goal. So there's no doubt that the skill is there, but he still has to work."
Nylander played center on Monday, a departure from his natural position at left wing. It was a gamble by the coaching staff after Nylander's tough day on the wing against New Jersey, but the young forward said after that he's comfortable playing any forward position.
"I think I can play everywhere, left wing, right wing or center," he said. "I definitely prefer left wing, but wherever they put me I'll be satisfied."
More points for Baptiste
Two of the veterans on the Sabres' roster combined for their first goal of the night, when Nick Baptiste found Bailey with a slick pass through the crease. Bailey, who was a scratch in Buffalo's loss to New Jersey, tapped the puck in with a backhand from in-tight.
Baptiste later assisted on Guhle's goal late in the third, finding the defenseman stationed to the right of the net with a pass up through the offensive zone. Baptiste scored a hat trick against the Devils on Saturday, giving him five points total in two games at the Prospects Challenge.