WINNIPEG - It was only a few days ago when Kyle Okposo was at his locker in Buffalo, talking about how he needed to "bear down" on his scoring chances. That was Friday, when the Sabres were winless in four-straight games and just three days removed from blowing a three-goal lead in the third period of a shootout loss in Philadelphia.
Since then, the Sabres have won back-to-back games on back-to-back days, both times protecting a third-period lead to do so. Okposo has indeed capitalized on his chances, and has three goals to show for it in those two games including two in Buffalo's 3-1 win over the Winnipeg Jets on Sunday afternoon.
"I do think we have to have learned a lesson from the Philadelphia game, and it appears we've done that," Sabres coach Dan Bylsma said. "It was a good, calm, confident demeanor about the way we played the third period and we were really kind of believing we were going to come out on top."
Closing out Sunday's game certainly wasn't without its difficulties. The Sabres allowed an early goal in the third period to make it 3-1 (just like they did in Philadelphia) and found themselves shorthanded twice in the final four minutes (just as they did in Philadelphia). They even missed the empty net on six different occasions when clearing the puck from the defensive zone.
Still, they persevered and limited the quality of the Jets' chances. The Sabres were a perfect 6-for-6 on the penalty kill, thanks in no small part to a 9-4 record on shorthanded faceoffs. Ryan O'Reilly was again outstanding in the faceoff circle and won 17 of his 27 attempts.
You need to start well enough to earn a third-period lead in order to have to protect one, and the Sabres did that for the second day in a row, after winning 3-1 on home ice Friday against Florida. Okposo opened the scoring 10:51 into Sunday's contest and Brian Gionta followed up with a goal less than two minutes later, both of which were scored on second-chance opportunities.
"I think it's been a difference for us," Bylsma said of his team's fast start. "This game in particular, coming out and getting a lead on the road has been key for us."
Okposo's second goal, scored with 6:01 remaining in the second period, was the result of quick breakout and a well-placed shot. Jake McCabe forced a turnover at the defensive-zone blue line to free the puck to Cody Franson, who passed it across to O'Reilly. O'Reilly immediately made a stretch pass to Okposo, who beat Wild goalie Michael Hutchinson with a stick-side shot from the left circle.
Video: BUF@WPG: Okposo beats Hutchinson for the second time
The goal was enough to chase Hutchinson, who made 12 saves on 15 shots. Connor Hellebuyck was a perfect 13-for-13 in 16:06 of relief.
"I think it's part of the game plan every game is if they've got three guys caught deep, you want to beat their guys up the ice and move that puck quick," Okposo said.
That second goal from Okposo gave the Sabres extra cushion with a 3-0 lead, and Bylsma described it as one of the key moments of the game.
"I think games four through six for Kyle, he had 15 scoring chances," Bylsma said. "It's not for a lack of time around the net. He's a goal scorer and the more opportunities he gets to score - he's had a lot of them - he's gonna tally the goal for us …I thought the third one was a big one. That's a goal scorer's goal."
The other key moment that Bylsma singled out came shortly after Nikolaj Ehlers scored to put Winnipeg on the board 4:49 into the third period. Patrik Laine, a deadly shooter with six goals already in his rookie season, found himself alone in the slot and ripped a shot that Robin Lehner was able to snag with his glove.
Video: BUF@WPG: Lehner robs Laine with glove save in 3rd
"I didn't know that it was him shooting," Lehner admitted afterward.
Lehner was making his first start since Oct. 20 after missing three games in a row to illness. He nitpicked certain areas of his game afterward - his rebound control being one of them - but said he felt good overall in his first start back, a statement backed by his 37 saves on 38 shots.
"I felt good," Lehner said. "I started to lose my breath a bit at the end, but that's to be expected after a week and coming back from a flu."
Video: Robin Lehner with Duffer and MayDay
After watching back-to-back losses against Philadelphia and Minnesota from afar, Lehner spoke Friday about the importance of the team buying into their system for a complete 60 minutes. Now that they've done that for two games in a row, he said, the next step is to learn and replicate what they've been doing well.
"It's a good team over there too that's very fast, so they're going to have their chances," Lehner said. "But I think looking at yesterday and looking at today's performance, we're definitely playing smart I think and playing to what we're good at. Just playing smart helps a lot.
"We've got to learn from this and keep seeing where we're getting the success and let's keep it going."
Gionta nets his third
Gionta's goal in the first period came on a 2-on-1 break for him and Marcus Foligno. The Jets rimmed the puck hard along the boards in the offensive zone and Gionta was able to pick it up near the blue line, allowing him and Foligno to get out ahead of the defense. Gionta took the initial shot and, after the rebound just barely evaded the reach of Hutchinson's glove, poked it in for his third goal of the season.
Video: BUF@WPG: Gionta follows his shot, pokes in rebound
"It's either going on net or it's coming all the way around I tried tracking it," Gionta said. "It got away from me a bit, more than I thought, I was able to chase it down though and the D played the 2-on-1 towards 'Moose' so I tried getting a shot. It ended up coming right back to me."
Fasching leaves early
Hudson Fasching left the ice after his first shift of the game and did not return due to a groin injury. It was the second injury in as many days for the Sabres, who lost Nicolas Deslauriers to a lower-body injury in the third period of their game on Saturday.
Bylsma had no timetable for Fasching after the game, but said it was likely that the team would need to recall another forward from Rochester in advance of their game in Minnesota on Tuesday.
The Sabres will look for their third win in a row when they conclude their road trip against the Wild in Minnesota on Tuesday night. Coverage of that game begins at 7:30 p.m. ET with Tops Sabres Gamenight on MSG-B, or you can listen live on WGR 550. The puck drops at 8 p.m.