They escaped with a win in Toronto on Monday, but the Buffalo Sabres won't be able to afford the same early-game pitfall they experienced against the Maple Leafs when they host the New York Rangers at First Niagara Center on Tuesday night.
New York's 55 first-period goals rank sixth in the NHL, one of which came against Buffalo in a 6-3 loss for the Sabres at Madison Square Garden in January. The Sabres, meanwhile, have allowed goals in the opening three minutes in three of their last four games, two of which came in the game's first shift.
"I think the first half of the year – a good portion of the year – the problem in the first period was us not being able to score," Bylsma said. "The last 17 games it's really been breakdowns and a lack of focus that's given up goals.
"That's been not necessarily pinpointed to one specific aspect of it other than really a lack of focus, a lack of readiness and making a mistake and it ending up in the back of the net. That's clearly the case the last couple of games."
On the same token, the slow starts have given the young Sabres chances to show their resiliency. They fought to reach overtime in all three of those three aforementioned games and were even able to come away with a win against the Maple Leafs thanks to late contributions from Jack Eichel, Sam Reinhart and Evander Kane.
"You never like to find yourself down, you never like to find yourself on your heels in a hockey game, but our team has shown they're really not daunted by that," Bylsma said. "Our team has shown they're not going to stop, they're not going to quit. And in some cases, we almost play a little freer when we our down."
The Sabres showed some of that fight in their first meeting with the Rangers, erasing a one-goal deficit in the first period and then clawing back from a two-goal deficit in the third. They struggled with the Rangers speed for the remainder of the game, however, which will be a focus of theirs on Tuesday.
"It's managing the puck," Sabres captain Brian Gionta said. "With their team speed, they're a team that's going to make you pay on turnovers. We need to make sure that we're getting it behind their D and making them come the whole way.
"It's cliché and you say it all the time, but you've got to make sure that we're making their D work, making it hard for them to get up the ice and harder to get up to their speedy forwards."
The Rangers are a bit beaten up as a team, coming into Buffalo without the services of defensemen Marc Staal and Dylan McIlrath, forward Rick Nash and goalie Henrik Lundqvist. Tuesday will mark the Sabres' first time seeing forward Eric Staal, acquired from Carolina on Feb. 28, in a Rangers uniform.
Robin Lehner will start in net for the Sabres. Coverage begins at 6:30 p.m. with Tops Sabres Gamenight on MSG-B and Bell TV. The game can also be heard live on WGR 550.
PYSYK'S ON THE BOARD
Lost in the commotion of a third-period comeback and shootout win on Monday was the first goal of the season for defenseman Mark Pysyk. Pysyk caught a pass in the slot from Kane, took an initial shot off of goaltender Garret Sparks and tapped in his own rebound.
It wasn't entirely clear at first whether or not the goal had counted. Sparks initially pinned the puck under his blocker, but it popped out and just barely crossed the goal line. That had to be confirmed with a video review.
"I thought that it didn't go in," Pysyk said. "I was pretty rattled. It was a pretty good chance right in front."
Pysyk's primary concerns lie on the defensive end and in his ability to quickly move the puck up the ice, but that doesn't mean he didn’t have goal No. 1 on his mind. Quite frankly, he was running out of time.
"You try not to, but what are there, 15 or 16 games left?" Pysyk said, smiling. "It was definitely a weight off my shoulder even though I'm trying not to think about it."
Bylsma updated the statuses of two of his injured players on Tuesday. Defenseman Cody Franson (neck) and forward Tyler Ennis (concussion) are both continuing to progress off the ice, he said, with hopes of returning before the season's end.
"Slightly and slowly but he is progressing, working out off the ice today for Cody," Bylsma said. "It's been small steps recently for both him and Tyler but steps in the right direction, so hopefully it means they can start moving towards the possibility of getting back on the ice with the team. There's no definitive time right now for that to be the case."
9 Evander Kane – 15 Jack Eichel – 23 Sam Reinhart
82 Marcus Foligno – 22 Johan Larsson – 12 Brian Gionta
28 Zemgus Girgensons – 19 Cal O'Reilly – 44 Nicolas Deslauriers
43 Daniel Catenacci – 17 David Legwand – 26 Matt Moulson
4 Josh Gorges – 55 Rasmus Ristolainen
29 Jake McCabe – 47 Zach Bogosian
25 Carlo Colaiacovo – 3 Mark Pysyk
40 Robin Lehner
31 Chad Johnson