In the month of February, losing games after a win has become a pattern for the Sabres. They have not lost two in row; nor have they won two in a row. That trend continued in their 4-2 loss to Vancouver on Sunday, a missed opportunity to inch within three points of a playoff spot.
It's that type of inconsistency that has this young Sabres squad once again at .500, a mark they've floated around all season. Veterans on the team have expressed disappointment throughout the seasons in Buffalo's inability to play within their game plan for a full 60 minutes, but that disappointment hit another gear when Kyle Okposo and Robin Lehner spoke after the game on Sunday.
"It's not even disappointing anymore, it's starting to get … I'm starting to get angry," Lehner said. "This is all talk. We've got to look ourselves in the mirror here. It's disrespectful. I think it's disrespectful when we have a game plan, we're going through things - the last few days we've just been going through on how to play our second period.
"You know, Coach brought it up there, you know, coming up with a good game plan. We do the exact opposite. We don't do what he said. That gets me angry; I think it gets a lot of guys angry. Disrespectful, I think, is the word."
" … We haven't done anything in this League," Lehner continued later. "[Captain Brian Gionta's] won a Cup. With all respect to him, he's done something in this League. The rest of us, we haven't. End of story.
"We've got to stop thinking after we win a game we're Chicago or Boston or [whoever] we think we are, I don't know. But it's time. It's time to realize that we're a grinding hockey team that's got to follow the structure and start listening to our coach and start respecting this team and respecting our coach."
Video: LEHNER: Postgame
When coach Dan Bylsma was told about Lehner's comments, he agreed with his goalie's choice of words, but said their play on Sunday wasn't disrespectful to the coaches, but rather to the game itself.
"It's not disrespectful to me, it's disrespectful to the game and the process," Bylsma said. "We're not a team that's a championship team. We're not a team that's won anything yet. That's where we're trying to get … The way we played was disrespectful to that process, disrespectful to the game."
Video: BYLSMA: Postgame
Second periods in particular have plagued the Sabres this season, and in this game they entered the second period tied 2-2 and emerged trailing 4-2, taking two penalties and being outshot 12-6 in the meantime. Okposo, who scored to tie the game with 15.9 seconds remaining prior to the first intermission, referred to that period as "gross" before going on to echo Lehner's comments.
"We talked about having a good second period this morning," Okposo said. "We watched some film and decided how we were going to play, and then forgot to do it. I mean, we've got to go out and execute.
"Good teams go out there and they execute the game plan and they do what they're supposed to do and then everything else takes over, your naturally creativity, your skill takes over. We just didn't do that tonight."
Video: OKPOSO: Postgame
The Sabres came out looking like the team that had jumped to an early lead on its way to win a win in Toronto on Saturday, establishing a forecheck early and earning the first goal off the stick of Tyler Ennis a mere 4:58 into the game. Even after Vancouver scored twice with the aid of power plays to erase that lead, Okposo's goal seemed to be one that could shift momentum back in Buffalo's favor.
The Canucks got their first goal in the second period off the stick of Alexandre Burrows, who scored on a 3-on-2 rush. Their second goal of the period came from Michael Chaput with a one-time shot just as a Vancouver power play expired.
Chaput had also scored Vancouver's second goal of the first period seconds after the end of a power play ended when the Sabres turned the puck over deep in their own zone, while Bo Horvat got the Canucks on the board originally with a deflected goal with eight seconds remaining on their first power play of the night.
Okposo, however, debunked the idea that special teams were the difference.
"We didn't play well enough to win that game. It's just not good enough," he said. "… Turnovers, not getting the puck in, we just didn't execute. There were passes that weren't on the tape. I mean, it was just sloppy.
"That's something that, we have a good game last night and a big win for us, and we've got to try and ride some momentum and we go out there and lay an egg. It's just … It gets old but we've got to try and find a way to string some together."
With their missed opportunity to gain ground, the Sabres remain five points back from Toronto in the wild card spot. It's still a closeable gap, but with the Trade Deadline looming in less than three weeks, Lehner said something will have to chagce on the ice quick if the players want to avoid any changes in the dressing room.
"Reality's going to come real quick if we don't figure it out," he said. "It's how it is, I mean you can't hide from it. This building, these fans, they deserve better. Our coaching staff deserves better. At the end of the day, it's only the guys in this room. It's no one else's fault."
Falk sticks up for Lehner
Back when the game was 1-0 in the first period, Justin Falk delivered a hit that knocked Burrows down to the ice and provided a jolt of energy into the KeyBank Center crowd. The hit, which saw Falk skate from one end of the ice to the other and blindside Burrows, was an effort to protect his goalie after Burrows had slashed Lehner and the two players began to shove one another.
The play resulted in minor penalties for roughing awarded to all three players, and Horvat used the ensuing power play to tie the game.
Asked if he had any problem with Falk's actions, Bylsma simply said, "Absolutely not."
Video: FALK: Postgame
"I wasn't thinking about anything like that at the time," Falk said. "I was headed for a line change, heard a reaction from the crowd, turned around and saw a guy in Lenny's face there. A situation like that, he's proven he's capable of standing his own ground but that's when we step in and know that he's protected and we have his back."
"I was very happy about that," Lehner said. "It's a good penalty, a good penalty to take. But, again, we should've killed that off."
Buffalo will look to rebound on Tuesday night against Senators in Ottawa. It will be the fifth and final matchup between the two teams this season, with the Sabres holding a 3-0-1 record through the first four.
Coverage on Tuesday begins at 7 p.m. with the TOPS Game Night pregame show on MSG, or you can listen live on WGR 550. The puck drops between the Sabres and Senators at 7:30.