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Sabres unable to build on strong start in loss to Canadiens

Eichel scores lone goal in 3-1 defeat

by Jourdon LaBarber @jourdonlabarber / Sabres.com

Jake McCabe and his Buffalo Sabres teammates are aware of the importance of their current stretch. 

The Sabres sit 10 points out of the playoffs and are now two games into a chunk of the schedule in which they play nine of 10 contests in KeyBank Center, where they have enjoyed success this season. 

Following their 3-1 loss to the Montreal on Thursday, McCabe recognized the need for urgency if the Sabres are to make up ground.

"We do like to keep the picture small, but the last two games - we've been good on home ice - but we've let ourselves down here and nobody's going to feel bad for us," the defenseman said. 

"And it's not going to get any easier from here on out. We've got [31] games left and do have a few more here at home on this little homestand so it's time to be even more desperate and be the more desperate team every night, especially on home ice."

Video: BUF Recap: Eichel scores in loss to Canadiens

The Sabres entered the night with a clear sense of urgency on the heels of their loss against Ottawa on Tuesday. Jack Eichel opened the scoring on the power play to reach 30 goals for the first time in his career as the Sabres generated the game's first nine shots. 

The game turned quickly in the second period. Ilya Kovalchuk pounced on a loose puck at the edge of the crease to put the Canadiens on the board just 44 seconds in, then Brendan Gallagher found space to bury a Tomas Tatar feed less than three minutes later. 

The Canadiens went on to outshoot the Sabres, 14-3, in the second period and Gallagher's goal stood as the game winner. Tatar added an empty-net goal with 1:47 left in the contest, while Carey Price made just 20 saves to earn the victory. 

 

"We just came out flat in the beginning of the second period," Sabres coach Ralph Krueger said. "It took a while for us to grind ourselves back into the game. I thought there was a reaction in the making, but we just did not get to Price in the way we needed to win this game tonight and it's extremely disappointing where we're standing right now."

McCabe said he felt the Sabres allowed the Canadiens' one-two punch in the second period affect their confidence and, by extension, their game. Where they were on their toes in the first period, they were on their heels in the second. 

"Especially in the second period, turnovers are costly, guys get stuck out there and the next thing you know you're just dumping the puck, changing and they're coming right back at us," McCabe said. 

The Sabres did even the play out in the third but went unsuccessful on a late power play with the chance to tie the game. Krueger once again stressed the need to capitalize more when the possession and chances are in Buffalo's favor as they were in the first period. 

"When we're in these opportunities like we were early in the game, you need to be hungrier and probably put a better result on the table after the first period," Krueger said. "We started a game that needed a 2-0 lead or maybe even more, but we didn't have enough of a killer instinct, maybe, at that moment in time to do that. 

"All you do is you continue to work at it. You look it in the eyes, you watch this game in slow motion, as painful as it is for the coaches, and you bring the players the lessons out of it. That's what you do."

Carter Hutton made 27 saves in his first start in the absence of Linus Ullmark, who is expected to miss three to four weeks with a lower-body injury. His night included breakaway stops on Gallagher and Nick Suzuki, both of which kept the score 2-1. 

"Wins and losses are not really goalie stats," Hutton said. "I can't control whether we score or not; I can just control the way I compete and play. It's frustrating, but there's only so much I can control, and that's the way I go about it."

Video: MTL@BUF: Hutton stamps out Suzuki's chance

The Sabres still have seven of their next eight games at home, beginning against Columbus - a team they're chasing in the standings - on Saturday. Forward Curtis Lazar echoed McCabe in stressing the need for a quick response. 

"As a group, we've just been talking," Lazar said. "It's about time that we make a push and we need everyone in here to be in the present. No one around the league is going to feel sorry for [us] or anything like that. We know the group of guys we have, a bunch of solid individuals, and we need to come together here and play as a team and everyone just do their job."

 

Okposo exits early 

Kyle Okposo completed his last shift with 6:06 remaining in the first period and did not return. Krueger announced the forward sustained an upper-body injury that is not head related. Further word will come Friday, though the coach said he is "not optimistic" Okposo will play against the Blue Jackets.

 

30/30 Club

Eichel became the first Sabres player to have 30 goals and 30 assists in the same season since Jason Pominville (30+43) in 2011-12. He's one of just six Sabres to reach both marks in 50 games or less, along with Pat LaFontaine (twice), Rick Martin, Alexander Mogilny, Gilbert Perreault, and Rene Robert. 

Video: MTL@BUF: Eichel goes short side for PPG

Eichel is only the third player to reach both marks this season, joining Colorado's Nathan MacKinnon and Boston's David Pastrnak. 

 

Dahlin passes Orr

Rasmus Dahlin's assist on Eichel's goal was the 73rd point of his career, passing Bobby Orr for fourth-highest total by a teenage defenseman in NHL history. 

Tweet from @PR_NHL: Rasmus Dahlin boosted his career totals to 12-61���73 and overtook Bobby Orr for the fourth-most points by a teenage defenseman in NHL history. #NHLStats pic.twitter.com/6FPzKgYFlk

 

Up next

The homestand continues Saturday afternoon against the Columbus Blue Jackets. Coverage on MSG begins at 12:30 p.m., or you can listen to the game on WGR 550. Puck drop is scheduled for 1. 

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