It wasn’t too long after the opening faceoff that the Buffalo Sabres were trailing Saturday night against the Pittsburgh Penguins.
Kris Letang scored 1:21 into the game with assists from Sidney Crosby and Patric Hornqvist. The trio continued to pile up points in Pittsburgh’s 6-1 win at First Niagara Center.
Crosby recorded five assists, Letang put up two goals and two assists and Hornqvist scored twice and had an assist.
Zemgus Girgensons scored with 5:17 remaining in the second period to spoil Marc-Andre Fleury’s shutout bid. He deflected in a Josh Gorges shot from the point. The goal marked Girgensons’ third goal of the season and Gorges’ first point as a Sabre.
Jhonas Enroth made 33 saves in net. Fleury stopped 20 shots for the win.
The Penguins played well and executed almost to perfection, but for Girgensons, it was the performance of his team that tipped the scales in Pittsburgh’s favor.
“The score was 6-1 so it was definitely us more playing poorly. Any team, if you’ve got an effort and you can compete, it can be a close game,” he said. “But if you don’t try against a team like that then you see the score, the result.”
So what can the Sabres do to bring a more consistent, effort night in and night out? The players are struggling to find the answer and the leadership group and veterans of the team have said that each player needs to look at his own individual play first and foremost.
“In order to get that consistency, it’s hard because each individual in here needs to look at themselves and do their job and then collectively as a group we can come together,” Drew Stafford said. “It can’t be one guy here, one guy there. It’s not going to work like that. I mean, that’s a hard question to answer. We’re running out of things to say here. It’s just a matter of regrouping and coming back to work.”
That early goal deflated the team a bit and Sabres captain Brian Gionta said that the poor start was a big factor in this game.
“Too many nights, we’re coming out back on our heels. We’re not forcing plays. We’ve got to get in the habit of initiating the play, moving up, forcing things,” he said. “If we make mistakes, it’s got to be an aggressive mistake. Right now, we sit back, give too much time and space and good teams – any team – with time and space in this League is going to make you pay.”
Gorges was on the ice for all seven goals scored in the game and pointed the finger squarely at himself.
“There’s no real answer. We keep talking about it, but I’ve got to face the facts, it’s not nearly good enough,” he said. “My job is to be solid defensively, give our team a chance, be a leader and to get scored on that many times is embarrassing. I’m embarrassed for myself. I’ve got to be way better than that. That’s all there is to it.”
While it certainly isn’t a positive stat line on Saturday, Nolan has been nothing but impressed by what Gorges has brought to the team both on and off the ice since the team acquired him through a trade back in July.
“One thing we can never do about Gorges is complain about how he’s doing for us. He competes every game and Crosby showed why he’s a world-class player,” Nolan said. “Josh Gorges is not one of our problems. He’s one of our bright lights.”
WORDS INTO ACTION
The players are running out of ways to explain what’s going on and hope their actions on the ice – starting first at practice on Monday and then in their next game at St. Louis on Tuesday – can change that.
“Most of the games, it’s the same thing,” Girgensons said. “You can take my comments from one game. it’s going to be the same thing.”
Sabres coach Ted Nolan and his assistants will continue to try to find ways to get their message through to the team.
“You run out of words. Except you say it over and over again and you can’t quit,” he said. “Our fans pay good money to watch us play and at least compete and perform for that if there’s nothing else. What can you say? We’ve got to find a way and keep searching for it.”
It’s been a recurring issue for the Sabres so far this year.
“Right off the bat, we’re down 1-0 and the bench needs to get going. We can’t sit there and do the whole ‘Woe is me’ thing like we’re in for a long night. We can’t have that kind of feeling,” Stafford said. “Instead of going after it and responding right away, it’s more sitting back and hoping they don’t do it again. And they did do it again. And again. There’s not much else to say.”
Nolan was happy with the play of Girgensons and 2013 first-round picks Rasmus Ristolainen and Nikita Zadorov. Ristolainen and Zadorov were paired together against the Penguins.
Girgensons went 10-for-13 on faceoffs. His faceoff percentage of 76.9 percent was his highest in all games in which he took more than one faceoff.
“All three are under  years old and they’re by far our best players,” Nolan said.