SUNRISE, Fla. –
Against a gifted power play and an equally talented goaltender, special teams proved to be the difference in a 3-2 Sabres loss to the Florida Panthers on Thursday at BB&T Center.
With the loss, Buffalo falls to 1-3-0 on the season.
Buffalo fell behind early when Jaromir Jagr scored a power-play goal on a 5-on-3 opportunity and the Sabres were never able to come all the way back.
Jagr ended the night with two goals and an assist and Aleksander Barkov contributed a goal and an assist for the Panthers.
“We had that slow start again, first period we didn’t have much going,” said Sabres captain Brian Gionta, who made his season debut in the loss after missing three games with a lower-body injury.
“We got our game going, put some pressure on them, and then again we have to find a way on the penalty kill to shut down their power play.”
Jake McCabe scored the first goal his NHL career in the loss for Buffalo, thanks in part to a perfect pass from Marcus Foligno for his third point of the season.
Tyler Ennis scored late on the power play to cut the deficit to one with assists from Ryan O’Reilly and Rasmus Ristolainen.
Roberto Luongo made 24 saves in net for the Panthers to earn the win while Buffalo goaltender Chad Johnson kept his team in the game by stopping 26 shots.
PENALTIES TURN INTO GOALS
Penalties committed by the Sabres turned into Panthers goals twice Thursday night, first to get Florida on the board in the opening period and then to give them some separation and make it a 3-1 game in the third.
Mike Weber went to the box for tripping with 12:38 to play in the first period and Josh Gorges followed on a hooking call 24 seconds later, putting Buffalo at a 5-on-3 disadvantage. Jagr capitalized with the first of his two goals, one-timing a pass across the net from Barkov to give Florida a 1-0 lead.
After controlling momentum late in the second period, Mark Pysyk was called for high-sticking 2:49 into the third and this time Barkov took advantage with a power-play goal. Buffalo went on to commit two more penalties in the period and committed a total of five in the game.
“We took a second penalty to give them an opportunity and a really good one,” Sabres coach Dan Bylsma said. “The power-play goal against is big for us, in the third they make it 3-1 and [we’re] just too far back in the hole with how we played in the first to fight back and to win the game.”
On their own opportunities, the Sabres struggled to generate points on the power play until Ennis scored 12:35 into the third. Buffalo had converted on 33.3 percent of their power plays coming into Thursday’s game, tied for the third-highest rate in the League, but failed to convert on their first five opportunities against Florida.
Ennis was able to beat Luongo from in-between the circles for his first goal of the season to make it a 3-2 game after Florida defenseman Aaron Ekblad went to the box for a delay of game penalty.
“I thought some of the guys moved it pretty well, obviously we got a late power play goal there. I thought the work ethic was there, I think guys were doing well, it was just not getting the puck in net,” Foligno said. “We competed tonight.”
ONE FOR JAKE
On Saturday, Jake McCabe was playing in Rochester after being reassigned to the Amerks with no knowledge of when his next chance might come at the NHL level.
Five days later, he scored the first goal of his career to put the Sabres on the board with 7:30 to play in the second period. Marcus Foligno raced down the right wing side and evaded former Sabre Brian Campbell to make a perfect saucer pass across the net, where McCabe was waiting to tap it in.
“I’m going to tell everyone that I saw him, but no, you know, I thought about, you’ve just got to beat the first defenseman – that’s the crucial part,” Foligno said. “It’s great to be a part of that, especially for a teammate.”
“Dan is definitely big on defensemen, if it’s the right spot, to jump in the play and be offensive in that aspect,” McCabe said. “I did see an opportunity to jump in the play and kind of be that opportunity on the back side, whether it be a rebound off the shot [or a pass], but Marcus made a great pass across.”
While McCabe would have preferred to notch his first goal in a victory, his being in the right place to score put the Sabres in a position to tie the game and gain momentum for the rest of the second period.
“It would have been nice to get a win and enjoy it a little bit more, but it was nice to get the first one,” he said. “Hopefully there are many more.”
MAYDAY’S MOMENT OF THE GAME
“I was very impressed with the play of young defenseman Jake McCabe. His poise under pressure and of course the great play exiting his zone, leading the rush and scoring his first NHL goal. The kid clearly has offensive instincts and appears to be tough to play against as well.” – Brad May, Sabres Studio Analyst
LUONGO WINS AGAIN
Buffalo still was unable to solve Robert Luongo. The Panthers goalie won his seventh-straight game against the Sabres and four of those wins have been shutouts. Bylsma said before the game that he expects Luongo to surrender two goals or less on a given night, and that’s exactly what the goaltender did.
When the Sabres outshot Florida 12-6 in the second period, Luongo was the difference.
“He’s a heck of a goalie,” McCabe said. “That was kind of our mindset was to just get as many pucks [on goal] as possible, especially going into the third period. When you’re down you just have to throw everything at the net, crash the net.”
The Sabres will close out their Florida road trip against the Lightning in Tampa Bay on Saturday night at Amalie Arena. Pregame coverage begins at 6:30 p.m. with Tops Sabres Gamenight on MSG-B and Bell TV. The game can also be heard on WGR 550. Puck drop is scheduled for 7 p.m.