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Furious comeback comes up short in loss to Blue Jackets

by Jourdon LaBarber @jourdonlabarber / Sabres.com

Asked to explain Evander Kane's career-best production so far this season, Phil Housley boiled it down to a simple premise: Kane shoots the most, and therefore he scores the most. Kane entered Monday ranked third in the NHL in shots and tied for seventh in goals. 

Kane's seven shot attempts led the Sabres against the Columbus Blue Jackets on Monday night and, accordingly, he cashed in on his 12th goal of the season. The problem was that it took too long for the rest of team to follow suit, and a furious third-period comeback came up short in a 3-2 loss. 

After the game, Kane echoed a message his coach has been preaching throughout the season, saying the Sabres need to focus on developing a shooting mentality.

"I really think that we need to bear down a little bit more on pucks, bouncing pucks, win our 1-on-1 battles at the net and get pucks to the net," Kane said. "Hockey's not that hard of a game, only if you make it. 

"For us, it's just a mindset of maybe being more of a straight line team and getting some uglier goals."

Video: BUF Recap: Sabres late rally falls short in 3-2 loss

The Sabres nearly tied the game with an ugly goal after going down 3-0 when Boone Jenner scored 9:24 into the third period. Sam Reinhart deflected a puck to put the Sabres on the board three seconds later, and Kane scored to bring them within one with 3:32 remaining.

It was also Kane who drove to the net and drew a holding penalty on Blue Jackets defenseman Seth Jones to put the Sabres on the power play in the final minutes of the game. The Sabres nearly tied the game twice - first on a Jack Eichel shot that rung the post, and then on a Kyle Okposo attempt that was deemed dead before the puck crossed the goal line.

All of the characteristics that were essential to Buffalo's near-comeback are also qualities that Housley has implored to see from his team on a more consistent basis this season. They got pucks to the net, taking a 15 shots in the third period as opposed to a combined 17 in the first two, and battled in front to make life difficult for Columbus goalie Sergei Bobrovsky.

"You're playing against one of the best goaltenders in the league and we talked about making it difficult for him," Housley said. "At times we did. That last play I thought we did an excellent job of crashing the net."

" … I think we've still got to get more pucks to the net. You can see the goals that we scored, especially that last one, was a result of that. The second period we got away from the desperation we need and the 1-on-1 battles, the compete in those areas that we need."

After a scoreless first period, the Sabres went down in the second on a rebound goal by rookie forward Pierre Luc-Dubois. A strong individual effort from Artemi Panarin padded the Columbus lead early in the third, and Jenner's goal - scored on a loose puck at the net front - made the score 3-0 with 10:36 remaining. 

Robin Lehner made 26 saves on 29 shots in net for Buffalo.

It wasn't until Reinhart answered with a goal of his own that the Sabres finally seemed to find their spark. He positioned himself in front of Bobrovsky near the crease, from where he was able to tip a shot from defenseman Victor Antipin for his fourth goal of the season.  

Video: CBJ@BUF: Reinhart redirects point shot past Bobrovsky

"It's frustrating knowing how we can play, how we can be against really the best teams in the league," Reinhart said. "We've got to find a way to mentally demand more and expect more.

"…We're waiting too much for one break in a game. Unfortunately, as of late there hasn't been many goals for us early in games that have led to us playing the way we're capable of."

Kane described the Sabres' effort in the third period as the product of an attitude adjustment. 

"It's a mindset, it's an attitude," he said. "It's kind of an 'F you' attitude, especially with the situation we're in. We have nothing to lose. I don't understand the starts. We score two goals tonight but we didn't get our first goal until the 10 minute mark of the third period so we're not creating enough offensively.

" … When we do decide to put pucks on net it creates opportunities to make plays off those shots if they don't go in. We've got to find a better way to get the puck towards the net. We've got to find a mindset to just put the puck on net to create opportunities for ourselves."

The Sabres' winless streak increased to six games with the loss, during which they're 0-4-2. What's made it all the more frustrating for the players is, as they believe they proved in the third period on Monday, the ability to play winning hockey is in there somewhere. 

"I feel it's a very rough time, not only for the fans in Buffalo but the group in that locker room, the coaching staff," Housley said. "We didn't envision this being where we are right now and that's the tough battle. You hope that some of the hockey gods would give us a bounce here or there, but again, you create your own bounces. 

"This is testing us mentally for sure, but we've got to push forward."

 

Kane keeps going

Video: CBJ@BUF: Kane lasers one past Bobrovsky from circle

Kane's goal marked his team-leading 20th point in 21 games this season. He's already nearing the halfway mark of his 70-game total of 43 points from last season, and he's on pace for 78 points in 82 games. His current career-high for a season is 57, set at age 20 in 2011-12. 

Kane also continued to display his propensity for scoring in clutch situations. His six third-period goals this season tie him for fifth in the NHL, according to NBCSports.com.

 

Up next

The Sabres play their third game of a four-game homestand against the Minnesota Wild on Wednesday night. It will mark the first return to Buffalo for former Sabres forwards Tyler Ennis and Marcus Foligno, as well the first meeting for Jason Pominville and Marco Scandella against their former team.

Coverage Wednesday begins at 6:30 p.m. with GMC Gamenight on MSG-B, or you can listen live on WGR 550. The puck drops at 7 p.m.

 

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