A late comeback attempt by the Sabres was stifled on Saturday night at First Niagara Center as Buffalo dropped its 10th consecutive game, this time a 4-2 loss to the Philadelphia Flyers. Buffalo was outshot 32-27 in the losing effort.
The Sabres appeared to have life when Zemgus Girgensons converted on his second goal of the game to bring Buffalo within one with 1:09 to play. But the Sabres could not score thereafter; their closest chance came on a missed shot by Nikita Zadorov in front of the Philadelphia net.
The beginning to the third period was heavily lopsided in favor of Philadelphia. Tied 2-2 six minutes into the frame, Flyers forward Chris VandeVelde snuck in front of the defense and slipped the puck under the pad of Sabres goaltender Michal Neuvirth to give the Flyers a lead. Two minutes later, Matt Read scored Philadelphia’s decisive fourth goal.
“The effort was there,” Sabres coach Ted Nolan said after the game. “Obviously, some of the things that happened … when you have a couple of young defenseman in the game, that’s what’s going to happen in the third period occasionally. But at least the effort was way better.”
Neuvirth made 28 saves in the losing effort; R.J. Umberger and Mark Streit added goals for the Flyers. In addition to Girgensons’ two goals, Tyler Ennis scored for Buffalo to tie the game at two late in the second period.
But Buffalo was not without other opportunities to score. They had two breakaway chances in the second, one of which came shorthanded from Girgensons. In the third period, a review was held following a scrum in front of the net only to find that a Sabres shot attempt was kept out by the chest of a laying-down Zepp, extended on his side across the goal line.
Nolan shook up the Sabres top two lines for the game, putting Girgensons on a line in-between Brian Flynn and Chris Stewart and replacing him on the top line with Torrey Mitchell in between Ennis and Moulson. He was rewarded with goals from both of them.
“Yeah it was a better effort I think, we needed that after [Thursday’s] game in Minnesota but we still have to clean up some stuff,” Ennis said. “I like the effort, but a couple of breakdowns cost us.”
The line of Cody Hodgson, Phil Varone and Drew Stafford, meanwhile, saw reduced playing time – which Nolan said was a response to their recent play.
“[They] weren’t going so good,” he said. “We have to lay a message to the guys, if you don’t want to work, you won’t play.”
CRASHING THE NET
Something the Sabres have failed to do for much of this season has been setting up to score in front of the net. On Saturday, two of Buffalo’s three goals came directly in front on rebounds or tip-ins, and Nolan lauded his players’ efforts afterwards.
“You can talk about goal scoring; I know goal scoring in this league is tough. But if you don’t go to the net, carry the puck in, you don’t fight your way in there, you’re not going to have a chance,” he said “There’s not even a hope of scoring a goal if you don’t get to the net or you don’t shoot.”
When Ennis scored late in the second period, he was doing just that. Rasmus Ristolainen fired a long-range shot that was tipped by Matt Moulson off the goal post. When Moulson failed to get hold of the rebound, Ennis swooped in and waited just long enough to put the puck in the back of the net.
“That’s when patience is a good thing. Sometimes I get a little too patient, but that was good,” Ennis said. “If you look at our goals, we were just crashing the net and got bodies there. We’ve got to go do the same thing [Sunday] in Detroit, it’s going to be tough but we’ve got nothing to save it for, we’ve got a break after so we got to give everything we have.”
Girgensons’ second goal was, similarly, a product of camping close to the net. With a scramble of players vying for the loose puck, the Sabres All-Star was able to fire it towards the corner of the net and connect on a backhand.
“That’s what we’ve got to do,” he said. “We’ve got to get more of those dirty goals in front.”
POWER PLAY PROBLEMS
Buffalo struggled again on Saturday both when it came to killing penalties and converting on their own power plays. Philadelphia got the best of Buffalo twice with the man advantage, pulling the Sabres even with the Flyers at a league-high 40 power play goals allowed.
“We wanted this win its just, again we made mistakes that shouldn’t have been made,” Girgensons said. “We knew their power play was good, we gave them a chance to win the game with the power play pretty much.”
Meanwhile, Buffalo was unable to convert on its first two power plays against Philadelphia’s league-worst penalty kill unit. The Sabres’ last goal came on the power play, but they had a 6-on-4 advantage after pulling Neuvirth.
Buffalo will try to take that power play goal and carry it over to the rest of their special teams on Sunday in Detroit.
“I think the compete was there,” Ennis said. “We worked hard; they’ve got a really good power play so we’re trying to stay out of the box. Tomorrow, Detroit’s got another good power play too so we’ve got to be disciplined.”