PITTSBURGH – In an otherwise empty Buffalo Sabres dressing room Saturday night, defenseman Mike Weber stood before a handful of reporters and was asked about the team’s 5-0 loss to the Pittsburgh Penguins at Consol Energy Center.
Visibly upset and frustrated by the result, Weber chose his words carefully, but the message was clear. He wants his team to get mad and not take the losing sitting down anymore.
“We’ve got to somehow find an identity to get mean, get nasty, get angry,” an intense Weber said. “There’s not enough anger. There’s not enough intensity throughout the game.
“Every man’s got to pick it up insanity-wise and be nasty. We need to be a team that if we’re going to go down, we’re going to go down swinging. We haven’t been that team yet and that’s the most frustrating part.”
The Sabres have had their share of struggles in the early goings of this season and ran into a red-hot Penguins team that has now won four in a row, improving their overall record to 7-2-1.
The Penguins’ power play is the best in the League and is humming along at an incredible 41.9 percent success rate (18-for-43). They scored three power-play goals against a Sabres penalty kill that entered the game ranked eighth in the League.
“With our confidence factor right now, if we get down two goals, it doesn’t seem like we have the will to battle back, so we’ve got to stay close, 1-1 or 0-0 as long as we can and battle that way,” Sabres coach Ted Nolan said.
Sidney Crosby (0+3), Evgeni Malkin (1+2) and Chris Kunitz (2+1) each had three points for the Penguins. Marc-Andre Fleury made 18 saves and is 4-0-0 with a 0.75 goals against average, a .969 save percentage and three shutouts in his past four games.
Jhonas Enroth made 29 saves in net for the Sabres. The goaltending performances Buffalo has gotten from him and Michal Neuvirth have been bright spots thus far but the goal support just hasn’t been there.
“It’s very tough, especially today. I didn’t play my best game,” Enroth said. “I just felt we weren’t really close in this one.”
Inconsistency has been a thorn in the Sabres’ side and they’ve had trouble putting together full 60-minute efforts.
“It’s a consistency problem. We show up one game, we don’t show up the next, we show up in spurts, we show up in shifts, we show up for a period here, period there,” Weber said. “It’s a continued frustration from years previous that, for whatever reason, we can’t get out of.”
TRYING TO FIGURE IT OUT
The Sabres’ scoring troubles continue to mount as well. Buffalo has been shut out in five of their 12 games this season and has only 12 non-shootout goals.
“When you don’t work and you don’t fight and you don’t compete and you don’t battle, that’s what’s going to happen,” Nolan said. “This is the National Hockey League. It’s the best players in the world and people usually – usually – battle like a son of a gun in order to keep that position in this League because there’s only 700-and-something jobs in it.
“You want to make sure that I’m not going to be the one they’re thinking about moving or sending [down] or trading or whatever. You want to make sure you do the right things in order to do it and right now, we’re not doing it.”
The Sabres have spent a majority of their games in the defensive zone and that has severely hampered their ability to create scoring chances. Buffalo had only 18 shots on goal and 20 more didn’t hit the net.
Even with limited chances, the Sabres could have capitalized a few times off opportunistic turnovers by the Penguins. However, they couldn’t put the puck on Fleury.
Sabres captain Brian Gionta missed wide on a giveaway early in the second in front of the Penguins net and not long after, Drew Stafford intercepted the puck at his own blue line, but when he made it into the Pittsburgh zone, had his shot blocked by Penguins defenseman Olli Maatta. That play quickly turned up ice to set up Blake Comeau’s goal to make it 2-0.
“It’s a 1-0 game at that point and I have to take onus on that and be better there,” Gionta said of his missed shot.
“…You have to look at the way we’re playing the game and right now, we’re having a hard time coming out of our own end. We spend too much time in the D-zone and you’re not going to score goals in this League from there.”
CROSBY STILL GNASHES
The Sabres have had their hands full with Crosby over the years. That continued Saturday night. With three assists in the game, the Penguins captain increased his point streak against the Sabres to 18 games (10+21). It’s a streak that dates back to Dec. 29, 2007. During his career, Crosby has now collected at least one point in 24 of 26 games against the Sabres.
THEY’VE GOT THE POWER
The Penguins got off to a fast start, scoring 4:26 in. On the rush, Crosby drew two defenders to him but lost the puck as he reached the top of the crease. Following up on the play, Patric Honrqvist’s shot attempt found its way over to Kunitz, who backhanded it in past Enroth.
Pittsburgh added to their lead in the second period, scoring twice. Comeau scored on a feed from Malkin with 8:06 to play and then Honqvist tallied on the power play with 3:51 remaining in the period.
Malkin assisted on both second-period goals, extending his point streak to 10 games (5+10). He has at least one point in every game he's played in this season.
The Sabres had stayed out of the box and kept the League’s top power play off the ice up until the sequence that led to Hornqvist’s goal.
Buffalo committed a bench minor for having too many men on the ice. The Penguins went tic-tac-toe to set up the goal as Malkin fed it to Kunitz below the goal line, who then immediately tapped the puck to Hornqvist, who as able to score on a one-timer.
Kunitz scored his second of the night on the power play 2:33 into the third to make it 4-0 when he deflected in a slap pass from the point by Kris Letang. Malkin added another with the man advantage with 6:49 remaining in regulation.
“They have a lot of great tools, this team,” Enroth said. “The power play goals they scored were pretty good goals and hopefully we can try to take a page from their book and see how a great team plays the power play.”
SHAKE IT OFF
“It’s extremely frustrating right now but we’ve got to find a way to get this one out of our mind because it doesn’t get any easier tomorrow with Detroit,” Weber said.
Buffalo will wrap up their fourth of 19 sets of back-to-back games when they face the aforementioned Detroit Red Wings on Sunday at 5 p.m. at First Niagara Center. The Tops Gamenight pregame show begins at 4:30 p.m. on MSG-B and Bell TV. The game can also be heard live on WGR 550.
The game opens up a four-game homestand which concludes on Nov. 8 when the Penguins come to town.