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Checking miscues prove costly in loss to Blackhawks

by Jourdon LaBarber @jourdonlabarber /

When the Buffalo Sabres have found success this season, they've credited attention to detail away from the puck as the main reason why. 

The inverse has been true in trying times, including their 7-3 loss to the Chicago Blackhawks at KeyBank Center on Friday night. The Sabres outshot the Blackhawks, 43-30, but crucial mistakes throughout the night led to grade-A chances that turned into against. 

"We're too busy trying to score goals," Sabres coach Phil Housley said. "And then when the puck gets turned over or there's a possession in question, that switch isn't going off, we're waiting for somebody else to come back, the lack of respect of our own net."

Video: BUF Recap: Sabres fall short after late rally

At least one member of Chicago's top trio of Drake Caggiula, Jonathan Toews and Patrick Kane was on the ice for five of the seven goals Buffalo allowed. Kane tallied a game-high four points (2+2), followed by Caggiula with three (1+2). Brandon Saad also scored two goals. 

The Sabres controlled the first period to the tune of a 14-7 shot advantage, but still found themselves trailing after a defensive-zone turnover led to a Caggiula goal with 1:22 remaining. 

The Blackhawks poured it on during a three-goal second period, fueled by their play in transition. Kane received an outlet pass from deep in the Sabres' zone and was free for a breakaway. Duncan Keith shot on an odd-man rush and buried his own rebound. 

Jack Eichel scored his 17th goal to make it 3-1 with 1:55 left in the period, but Saad scored on a 2-on-1 rush to restore the Blackhawks' three-goal lead before the second intermission. Carter Hutton made 18 saves on 22 shots before being replaced by Linus Ullmark to start the third.

Video: CHI@BUF: Eichel beats Ward with great redirection

"You look at five goals out of the seven, the puck's on our stick, we're trying to make plays through people against a team that's very effective off the rush," Housley said. "Not that we didn't talk about that, having an awareness of when [Jonathan] Toews' line is out there. That's crept into our game a little bit, and you can see the result. The minuses will be piling up. The five-on-five differential is going to go the other way."

The Sabres showed some of their early-season swagger in the third period, when they generated the first 11 shots and brought themselves back within a goal thanks to markers from Jason Pominville and Kyle Okposo. The comeback ended with a Conor Murphy wrister that beat Ullmark from the high slot, just after the Sabres had nearly tied it on the other end.

Video: CHI@BUF: Okposo cuts deficit with power-play goal

Kane scored his second goal into an empty net with 2:47 remaining and Saad capitalized on another defensive-zone turnover to score his second in the game's final minute.

"I think we want to score and we have no respect for our end right now," Pominville said. "It's been a trend for a little while. It's definitely an area we've got to clean up. I mean, we made those guys look really good because we had no respect for our end. Everything they got, we gave them."

For an example of detailed checking turning into offense, Pominville pointed to the Blackhawks' top contributors. 

"Those guys, you look at their top players, they obviously were able to produce offensively tonight, but give them credit," he said. "They tracked, they worked hard to get back, they defended hard. Yeah, they found a way to get on board because of it. 

"We've just got to sharpen up in our own end and not hand them freebies. Make them work for it. If we do that, we'll be able to get back on track, but we've got to do it sooner than later."

The Sabres still have six games remaining on their season-long homestand, beginning with a visit from the Minnesota Wild on Tuesday. Eichel stressed the importance of responding the right way, beginning with practice on Saturday.

"Mistakes are costing us points and that's points in the standings that we can't lose," he said. "There's two ways to go about this as a group. Obviously. we can't dwell on it. Long homestand coming up and we've just got to dig in. 

"We've just got make it harder on the other team. We have possession, we can't give it back to them. We've got value it and just make it a lot harder on them."


Up next

The homestand continues against the Wild on Tuesday. Coverage on MSG-B begins at 6:30 p.m. with the GMC Game Night pregame show, or you can listen live on WGR 550. The puck drops at 7. 

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