ST. PAUL, Minn. – The Buffalo Sabres had been playing well of late, but were unable to sustain that stronger play into their two-game road trip this week.
After falling to the Winnipeg Jets 3-0 on Tuesday, the Sabres failed to collect any points against the Minnesota Wild on Thursday.
The Wild scored three goals in the second period en route to a 4-1 victory over the Sabres at Xcel Energy Center.
Marco Scandella opened the scoring 4:33 into the second period and Jason Pominville tallied 2:14 later. Jason Zucker added the third with 3:51 remaining in the period. Kyle Brodziak added an empty netter with 25.7 seconds left in regulation. Niklas Backstrom made 19 saves to earn the victory. The win snapped a six-game losing streak for Minnesota.
Matt Ellis tallied for Buffalo with 1:12 to play in the third period when the Sabres had pulled goaltender Ryan Miller in favor of the extra attacker. Miller finished the game with 28 saves.
“You can’t point a finger at anybody because it’s definitely a group effort,” Sabres captain Steve Ott said. “Let’s be honest. It’s a very, very disappointing game for us. It’s tough because Ryan’s been playing really good and we didn’t give him an effort in front of him.”
Buffalo went 0-for-4 on the power play and failed to convert on back-to-back opportunities in the first period. The Sabres were unable to sustain any real pressure in the offensive zone and missed out on the chance to take the lead on the road.
“Momentum’s a key factor and we’re not generating momentum or pressure on that power play,” Sabres captain Steve Ott said. “It seems like it’s really a factor, because especially in the first period, when we had a couple chances there, you can get a jump on a road building like this and play a little bit with a lead and confidence.”
Sabres interim coach Ted Nolan said it may have been one of the worst games the team has played since he took over behind the bench on Nov. 13.
“If it wasn’t, it had to be pretty close,” he said. “It was just one of those things where when we’re bad, we’re bad We keep trying to tell the team over and over again that we have to play a simple game.”
Scandella’s goal came as he jumped into the rush with Matt Cooke and Justin Fontaine. He skated into the Buffalo zone, past the Sabres defenders and took a pass from Cooke that he wristed past Miller.
Pominville, the former Sabres captain made it 2-0 when he beat Miller low glove side on a quick release off a pass from Mikko Koivu.
Zucker gloved down a flip from Nino Niederreiter in the neutral zone, skated in and sniped a shot over Miller’s glove.
The chances were plentiful for the Wild in that period. Mikael Granlund had hit the crossbar about a minute before Zucker scored. Minnesota outshot the Sabres 15-5 in that period.
“It wasn’t a strong effort,” Miller said. “We just didn’t have any zone time at all. They kind of picked us apart in the neutral zone in the second period.”
After the period, Nolan did not address the team and left it to the players to sort things out.
“They know how bad they played and sometimes you might say something that you’ll regret,” he said. “I’m very disappointed. We have to play a lot better.”
The players understood the message.
“I think everyone in the dressing room knew we had to be better and still in the third, there wasn’t enough there,” Sabres defenseman Christian Ehrhoff said.
After making a hit on Wild forward Matt Cooke, Drew Stafford left the game 7:19 in and did not return. He could miss an extended period of time, according to Nolan.
“It could be a little while,” Nolan said. “I’m not 100 percent sure. It’s not a day-to-day thing.”
The Sabres’ next game is at First Niagara Center against the New Jersey Devils on Saturday. Ehrhoff knows the team will have to put forth a better effort.
“We have to regroup and we have to find some energy and find some passion,” he said. “Put this one behind us and work a lot harder next game.”