Drew Stafford made his return to the lineup for the Buffalo Sabres and, in terms of scoring, picked up right where he left off. Unfortunately for the Sabres, his efforts weren’t enough to secure a victory.
Matt Hendricks scored on a shorthanded breakaway 57 seconds into the third period Monday night to lift the Edmonton Oilers over the Sabres 3-2 at First Niagara Center.
The Sabres and Oilers were locked in a 2-2- tie before Hendricks made his way in over the Buffalo line to beat goaltender Jhonas Enroth. Jeff Petry and Justin Schultz also scored for Edmonton.
Sabres captain Steve Ott tallied on the power play in the first period.
Goaltender Jhonas Enroth stopped 25 Edmonton shots while Oilers goaltender Ilya Bryzgalov made 42 saves. Buffalo’s 44 shots on goal were a season-high.
“I think we played pretty well today and we created a lot of scoring chances,” Linus Omark, who was acquired by the Sabres from the Oilers in December, said. “We should’ve scored more than two goals. But he was good tonight, Bryzgalov.”
Stafford, who missed four games with an upper-body injury, scored a shorthanded goal with 55.8 seconds to play in the second period to give Buffalo a 2-1 lead. The goal was his second career shorthanded marker and he now has six points (4+2) in his last five games.
He now has eight goals on the season and downplayed the notion that he’s feeling more confident.
“It’s more about just going out and playing free and having a clear head than anything,” he said. “Even when you have confidence, that doesn’t mean you’re going to score every time. There are a lot of times when you might be feeling good, but the puck’s just not going in for you. That’s just the way it works.”
Stafford’s goal came on a 2-on-1 break with Zemgus Girgensons. Skating down the right wing, Stafford held up as he crossed the blue line and then walked in toward the middle of the ice to wrist a shot top shelf over Bryzgalov. It’s the type of shot Sabres interim coach Ted Nolan would like to see more of.
“I thought Drew, the way he shot that puck, that’s what we want to see,” Nolan said. “He’s a big power forward and he’s starting to get his confidence back. In the first game back after a [four-game] break, it’s tough sometimes, but I thought he played well.”
Coming off a disappointing 7-1 loss on the road to the Colorado Avalanche on Saturday, Buffalo was looking to get off to a better start against the Oilers. However, it looked like things might go downhill once again when Petry scored 32 seconds into the game.
“It’s just one of those unfortunate breaks, but I thought we played well enough to win that game,” Nolan said. “That’s the way the puck bounces sometimes, but that was just a tough break.”
The Sabres were able to regroup and Ott scored to tie the game at the 8:04 mark of the first. However, at the end of the night, the team was left lamenting some of their missed chances.
“[Bryzgalov] did play a pretty solid game,” Ott said. “He made some huge saves on a lot of guys and we had some pretty dandy scoring opportunities. When you get those opportunities, most nights you’re going to win.”
Nolan said he liked his team’s effort for much of the game.
The Sabres put the puck over the goal line with 10:25 to play in regulation with Marcus Foligno making his presence known in the Oilers goal crease. However, the officials blew the whistle before the puck crossed the line and waved the goal off. Video replay confirmed the call on the ice.
“There was a whistle. We all heard it but it was a premature whistle, which is tough because he didn’t have the puck at all,” Ott said. “Obviously it’s in the back of the net. Once there’s even an intent to blow the whistle, it’s usually going to be a no goal, so it’s not even a challenge play.”
Sabres defenseman Tyler Myers left the game with 4:27 to play in the second period with a lower-body injury. After the game, Nolan said he still had to check with the doctors for an update on Myers’ condition.
Buffalo has two more games to play before the Olympic break. They host the Pittsburgh Penguins on Wednesday at 7:30 p.m. That game can be seen on NBCSN. After that, they travel to Ottawa to face the Senators on Thursday.