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Special teams are the difference in loss to Flames

Late comeback comes up short in 4-3 defeat

by Jourdon LaBarber @jourdonlabarber /

CALGARY - Jake McCabe and Jack Eichel scored to bring the Buffalo Sabres within one goal in the final minute, but the late comeback fell short in a 4-3 loss to the Calgary Flames on Thursday. 

Eichel's goal was scored with 47.4 seconds remaining and the Sabres on their eighth power play of the night. They had gone 0-for-7 up to that point and allowed a shorthanded goal that put the Flames ahead in the second period, which players agreed was the difference in the game. 

"It definitely is what jumps out on the night," coach Ralph Krueger said when asked about special teams. "I thought we came into the game the way we wanted to. Five-on-five was feeling really good. Again, the specialty teams shifted the momentum in their favor and for them to add a dagger in by scoring on the shorthander definitely was a turning point in the game. 

"We had a really bad second period overall and it definitely came out of that situation. We just gave up all our principles for a stretch and couldn't find it back in the third. There was a push at the end, which makes it that much more painful, I think, when you look at the storyline." 

Video: BUF Recap: Sabres fall short after late rally

Sam Reinhart opened the scoring just 3:29 into the contest. The Sabres went on to draw three penalties in the first period, two of which overlapped to give them a brief 5-on-3 advantage. They were unable to extend their lead, however, and the Flames tied the game with a power-play goal from Johnny Gaudreau before the first intermission. 

Tobias Rieder scored the shorthanded goal to make it 2-1 at 11:18 of the second. Two Flames pressured Henri Jokiharju along the offensive blue line to force a turnover, and Rieder was able to grab the puck unchecked for a breakaway.

"The pressure there on the wall was not only one, it was two, and we need to read that and support better than we did," Krueger said. "That lack or support really led to the goal against."

The momentum shift bled into the Sabres' 5-on-5 play. The Flames' next two goals - scored by Sean Monahan and Milan Lucic - were scored on odd-man rushes that began deep in the Buffalo zone. 

The Sabres leaned on strong habits away from the puck during their four-game point streak entering Thursday, one of which was forwards recognizing potential turnovers and backtracking to prevent opposing teams from transitioning with control. Reinhart felt they got away from that strength in the second period. 

"We got away from our game plan a little bit," he said. "I thought our forwards didn't do a good enough job of recognizing when we were kind of turning pucks over in the offensive zone and our gaps weren't as good as a result which gave them a lot more time and space. They made plays with it."

The Sabres will have a day of practice Friday before concluding their Western Canada road trip with back-to-back games in Vancouver and Edmonton. It will be another chance to work on the power play, which was one of the team's foremost strengths during the month of October. 

Video: POSTGAME: Krueger

Their abundance of skill shined with the extra man during that first month, whether it was Victor Olofsson rifling shots from the right flank, Eichel finding seams through traffic or Reinhart making quick plays down low. To open those kinds of plays, Reinhart and Olofsson agreed that simplicity may be the answer.

"I think we've just got to keep it simple," Olofsson said. "I mean, we always want to make a nice play and try and find the perfect chance all the time. Maybe have a little bit more 5-on-5 mentality and just go in and win some battles and take pucks to the net. It sounds kind of boring, but I think that's what we've got to do right now."

"I think those plays tend to come when you're breaking down the opposition, when you're breaking down the power play," Reinhart added. "I think we need to simplify a little bit more early and those plays will come."


Sabres Metrics

•   Reinhart's goal was his 10th in 29 games this season, which is the fewest number of contests it's taken him to reach double-digit goals in his career. His previous best was 10 goals in 42 games, set during his rookie season of 2015-16. 

•   Eichel's late goal extended his point streak to 11 games. He has 20 points during that stretch.


Up next 

The road trip continues in Vancouver on Saturday. Coverage on MSG begins at 3:30 p.m., or you can listen to the game on WGR 550. The puck drops at 7. 

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