Coming home from a loss to the New York Islanders on Saturday, the Buffalo Sabres knew which aspects of their game they'd have to clean up if they were to earn their first win of the season against the New Jersey Devils. Turnovers, execution on the power play and winning battles were among them.
Instead, their performance against New Jersey was in many ways a mirror image of what transpired in Brooklyn. A lopsided second period, ignited by a shorthanded goal for the opposition, resulted in a Sabres goaltender being pulled and paved the way for a 6-2 Devils victory.
"I just think our effort was unacceptable," Sabres coach Phil Housley said. "This game is a game of mistakes and it just seems like we're making key mistakes at times of the game that are ending up in our net. Even saying that, our resiliency has to be better. We're faced with adversity and we're not facing it the right way.
"It's funny because you can have a game plan, you can have strategy, but it starts with the work. It's so hard in this league to win. Every team is very good and everybody's fighting for something. We have to understand that, how hard it is to win."
Video: BUF Recap: Kane scores two goals in Sabres' 6-2 loss
Jesper Bratt and Marcus Johansson scored two goals apiece for the Devils. Stefan Noesen and Brian Gibbons also added goals, while Nico Hischier tallied an assist for his first NHL point.
For the second straight game, Buffalo's woes were the products of turnovers and missed execution. Of the Devil's four goals in the second period, two were scored on odd-man rushes stemming out of the offensive zone. The other two were products of defensive-zone turnovers.
The period had actually begun with the first of two goals on the night for Evander Kane, a fantastic individual effort that cut a 2-0 deficit in half 5:02 into the period. Kane outraced two Devils to a loose puck in the neutral zone and drew a slashing call as he drove to the net and scored off the backhand.
Video: NJD@BUF: Kane chases down puck, slips home PPG
That goal could have been a turning point in the Buffalo's favor. Instead, Adam Henrique fed Bratt on a 2-on-1 rush for a shorthanded goal less than 20 seconds later. The Sabres have now allowed four shorthanded goals in three games, matching their total from a season ago.
"If you look at the goals, they're all odd-man rushes," Kane said. "So either we're misreading plays or jumping at the wrong time or not being strong on the puck. We have to clean those obviously. Those are killers."
Once Bratt scored, the period began to snowball. Taylor Hall stripped Nathan Beaulieu to set up Johansson's first goal, and Andy Greene intercepted a breakout pass on the blue line to set up Bratt's second. Later in the period, Bratt fed Johansson on yet another 2-on-1 rush.
The last two games have been particularly difficult for Beaulieu, who caused the turnover that led to John Tavares' shorthanded goal in New York in addition to his turnover on Johansson's goal. He made no excuses when speaking after the game.
Video: Nathan Beaulieu Postgame (10/9/17)
"I just feel like I need to be better," Beaulieu said. "You have a good first period, you come out, you make a dumb play and it ends up in the back of your net. It's just those little plays that get yourself in trouble. It's no excuse, I've just got to be better."
Housley, a former defenseman himself, sympathized with Beaulieu's struggles.
"I think Nate's a very proud guy," Housley said. "I feel for Nate right now, because I've been in his position as a player where it's tough, it's mentally tough. You make some mistakes in back-to-back games and especially at home, it's very hard to fight through if you're in his shoes. He's a battler, he'll handle it the right way. He'll come to work and try to move forward."
Video: Phil Housley Postgame (10/9/17)
But Beaulieu certainly wasn't alone when it came to a lack of execution. Housley called on his team to do a better job of absorbing pressure in the defensive zone, and said their lack of shots (the Sabres only had 25 against Cory Schneider) stemmed from mistakes on the breakout, be it poor passes by the defensemen or a lack of support by the forwards.
Constant pressure and odd-man rushes forced Housley to pull Robin Lehner midway through the second period on Saturday and Chad Johnson following two periods on Monday. Johnson allowed six goals on 22 shots prior to being relieved by Lehner at the start of the third period.
"I think the work part of it is competing and coming to play and playing for 60 minutes," Housley said. "We'll have spurts in our game where we look really, really good and then there's other areas where we're not getting back or a breakout, we're not giving our defensemen an out in the neutral zone or were not winning a race to the loose pucks and that's work and effort.
"But I think we've got to figure out those parts of our game as a group moving forward here, and hopefully the sooner the better."
The Sabres will hit the road for a four-game trip along the west coast that begins against the Sharks in San Jose on Thursday night. Coverage begins at 10 p.m. with GMC Gamenight on MSG-B, or you can listen live on WGR 550. The puck drops at 10:30.