On Tuesday night, the Sabres honored Dominik Hasek when they raised his No. 39 to the First Niagara Center rafters. Perhaps it would have taken Hasek-like play to save them from what followed: their eighth-straight loss, a 3-1 setback at the hands of the Detroit Red Wings.
Mike Weber scored the lone goal for the Sabres, who were outshot 30-26. Michal Neuvirth made 27 saves for Buffalo and took his 12th loss of the season. Darren Helm, Gustav Nyquist and Tomas Tatar each tallied goals for Detroit.
“We’re just not generating enough offensive chances and enough shots. We need to get some more dirty goals where guys are going to the net and stop in front and battle and get that second, third and fourth opportunity,” Weber said afterward. “That’s how you score in this league.”
After allowing Detroit to take a 2-0 lead, Buffalo appeared to gain momentum on a 4-on-2 drive late in the second period. Weber’s first goal of the season came as the product of beautiful execution on that drive. Coming from the left, Drew Stafford passed across to Brian Flynn, who sent the puck back across the ice towards an oncoming Weber, who capitalized, by netting the puck in the high corner.
“I don’t jump in there very often, but I recognized the play and realized they had a guy go down behind me and just kind of jumped in,” said Weber.
But Detroit padded the lead with their third goal before the period’s end, a rebound tapped between Neuvirth’s legs by Tatar, Detroit’s leading goal-scorer. Despite an aggressive final couple of minutes from the Sabres, Detroit never wavered in the final frame.
“When playing against a very good team, it’s tough to find those holes,” Sabres coach Ted Nolan said. “We had a little bit of urgency in the last couple of minutes in the game. We had some opportunities but couldn’t put it in.”
THEIR OWN WORST ENEMY
When Darren Helm scored midway through the first period, it was Buffalo’s league-high seventh shorthanded goal allowed this season. Buffalo came into the game tied in the category with Toronto at six.
“Power plays should give you some momentum, and unfortunately ours is taking momentum away,” Nolan said. “We just keep doing the same type of thing; it’s not one guy every time it’s somebody different.”
Buffalo finished the night 0-for-2 on the power play, but their own penalties cost them just as much. The Sabres took four penalties in the game, most notably a four-minute call against Rasmus Ristolainen for high-sticking in the second period. Seventeen seconds after that call, the Sabres allowed Nyquist to score on a rebound in front of the net.
What happened next was both encouraging and discouraging. The Sabres took another penalty, making it 5-on-3 in favor of Detroit, but proceeded to kill that penalty against a skilled Red Wings offense.
“Almost every game we lose, a lot of times we put ourselves in that position. I mean a four-minute high-sticking penalty that didn’t need to be taken, then another penalty puts us 5-on-3 again so it didn’t need to be taken, so those are the type of things that ya know, if a team’s going to beat us they’re going to beat us, but we’ve been helping teams beat us,” Nolan said.
Weber was hopeful that the Sabres’ hard work on the power play will soon show on the ice.
“Obviously, our power play is something that we’ve continued to work on. It’s one of those things that’s hurting us right now, but I believe in the personnel that we have and we’ve got extremely skilled players,” Weber said. “I’m one of those believers that if you continue to work and if you try to come in every day to get better something’s going to happen. Hopefully it’s sooner than later.”
“Every day is a new day,” Nolan said. “The scary part is learning from what you did one day to the next, and the stuff is that we’re taking bad penalties at bad times and our penalty killing isn’t great right now.”
THE HONOR ROLL
The Sabres lined up to shake hands with Dominik Hasek prior to playing against Detroit, and despite having never played with the Hall of Famer, they recognized how special the night was.
“It was awesome,” Tyler Ennis said after the game. “Everyone respects Dominik. Growing up as a kid he was my favorite goalie so I’m glad I was a part of this special night and congratulations to him.”
One Sabre who was particularly moved by the ceremony was goaltender Michal Neuvirth, who grew up idolizing Hasek in the Czech Republic. Neuvirth has images of Hasek and the Sabres black-and-white logo painted on his mask as a tribute to his hero.
“It was something special,” he said after the game. “Good for Dominik, he deserved it; congratulations to him. But obviously I wanted to give him the win tonight.”
Nolan, who coached Hasek on the Sabres from 1995-97, said there were valuable lessons for his young team to learn from the all-time great.
“When I had the privilege of coaching him, he competed all the time. All the time,” Nolan said.“ And to see him – I didn’t realize the numbers he did have and the trophies he did win – it was very impressive. To have an athlete like that in your city, it was tremendous for our young players to see that.”