Despite a third-period rally featuring a flurry of shots, the Buffalo Sabres could not crack the code to score against Roberto Luongo. The 35-year-old goaltender made 26 saves to record the shutout as the Florida Panthers defeated the Sabres Friday at First Niagara Center by a score of 1-0.
Luongo posted the 67th shutout of his career and third consecutive against the Sabres with this victory. Sean Bergenheim scored a goal in the second period which proved to be the eventual winner.
Jhonas Enroth turned in his strongest statistical performance of the year in net for the Sabres, denying 34 of 35 shots. Matt Moulson led the Sabres with five shots in this game after recording just five in his first four games of the season.
Enroth made 16 saves in the opening period to keep Florida scoreless, but the Panthers’ first shot of the second period found the back of the net. Bergenheim fired from the left faceoff circle, and zipped a low shot past Enroth. Brad Boyes and Dmitry Kulikov were credited with assists on the goal. For Kulikov, it was the 100th point of his NHL career.
Near the midway point of the third period, Buffalo had a number of strong chances to tie the score with an extended power play, including 49 seconds of five-on-three play. Chris Stewart had the best chance of all after the first penalty expired. Gaining a bouncing puck at point-blank range, Stewart had his sights set on beating the glove of Luongo, but the puck flew over the net.
At the end of the night, the Sabres were scoreless on four power-play chances despite generating eight shots with the man advantage. The new first unit, which made a major change placing Cody Hodgson on defense opposite Tyler Myers, created many of those power-play chances. Moulson said the team just needs to keep things simple to break the slump.
“I think just keep shooting, get shots and get everyone going to the net,” he said. “When it’s not going in, the simplest way to fix that is to get pucks to the net. Get guys to the net and get a greasy one to kind of get that confidence going and go from there.”
Sabres head coach Ted Nolan echoed this sentiment, saying that his team is going to have to step their game up another notch to earn the tough goals that win games.
“You have to learn to play the game right first,” Nolan said. “You’re not going to score from the perimeter; you have to go to the dirty areas. That’s why scoring in this league is tough, and why scoring is at a premium. You score in front of the net, and when you go there, you’ve got to pay a price to go there.”
Three nights after stopping 22 of 25 shots in Carolina for his first victory of the season, Enroth was on top of his game against the Panthers, earning the second star of the game for his efforts. The one goal that snuck through was one he would certainly like to have back.
“He caught me a little bit off guard and got it through my legs there,” Enroth said. “I definitely should have been maybe a little more alert or ready for that … that’s one I felt like I could have saved.”
The Sabres blocked 17 shots to aid Enroth against Florida. Andrej Meszaros led the way with four blocks, while Josh Gorges and Zemgus Girgensons each picked up three. Torrey Mitchell helped out with two blocked shots, and his second one prevented the Panthers from putting the game away midway through the third period.
After a Stewart tripping penalty, Kulikov had a wide-open net while Enroth was out of position. Gorges and Mitchell stepped up to block the shot, and Mitchell’s back side rejected the puck.
“A great play by [Mitchell],” Enroth said. “We have a couple of guys that are blocking a lot of shots, and it’s a pleasure to play behind them and have those guys on your team. That’s what we do; we try to bail each other out as much as we can.”
PICKING UP THE PACE
The Sabres closed out the game in much better fashion than they started. After being outshot 16-3 in the first period, the Sabres generated nine shots in the second, and 14 in the third.
Given that the team faltered late before holding on to defeat Carolina on Tuesday, the Sabres were encouraged by the end of this loss, hoping that it leads to positive momentum moving forward.
“We just have to be prepared from the get-go,” Moulson said. “We came into that game in Carolina with a little bit of fire, and you have to bring that every single game. It’s a tough league and you have to be at your best every time.”