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Special teams prove to be the difference in loss to Kings

by Jourdon LaBarber @jourdonlabarber /

LOS ANGELES - For the second time in as many games on their current road trip, the Buffalo Sabres liked much of what they did on Saturday night against the Los Angeles Kings. The Sabres controlled the pace of play for much of the first and third periods, and felt they were the better team at even strength.

Once Drew Doughty took a shot from the point that beat Robin Lehner beneath his glove, though, the story of the game became a tale of two power plays. Each team had three chances with the extra man. Buffalo went 0-for-3. Los Angeles, having entered the game 0-for-16, went 3-for-3.

The final goal, a point shot from Doughty that came with two minutes remaining in the third period, stood as the game-winner in a 3-2 victory for the Kings.

"That was the name of the game tonight," Sabres forward Evander Kane said. "Penalties cost us, and we didn't kill off any of the power plays."

Video: Condensed Game: Sabres @ Kings

With 2:02 remaining in the third period of a tied game, Kane got tangled up while trying to make a play on the puck and was called for tripping Dustin Brown. Doughty took his shot right off the opening faceoff of the ensuing power play. 

"No excuse for that," Kane said. "I obviously wasn't trying to trip him, I was trying to make a play on the puck. But regardless of that, I can't take that penalty at that time of the game."

Lehner had made some big saves throughout the night, but said afterward that he felt he needed one more. He felt he was in position to make the save on Doughty's shot with his glove until it dipped at the last second.

"It was going to go in my glove and it dove and then it didn't go in my glove," Lehner said. "It's just how it's bouncing right now. I see a lot of shots every season, maybe once every 1,000 shots it dives on you."

Prior to Doughty's goal, the Sabres had gained some momentum when Jack Eichel scored to tie the game with 10:04 remaining. The goal capped an inspired shift from Eichel, who less than two minutes prior had watched Tyler Toffoli give Los Angeles the lead while serving an interference penalty he felt he didn't deserve.

Video: BUF@LAK: Eichel finishes his own rebound in tight

 "We had a good shift," Eichel said. "I thought there were a lot of momentum swings in the game. It was just some little errors. We're giving too many pucks back to the other team when we have it. It's kind of just little simple stuff, but if we clean it up I think we'll be able to generate more offense and we'll spend a lot more time in their end."

The Sabres looked like a team with a purpose in the first 20 minutes, which saw them outshoot and outhit the Kings on their way to a 1-0 lead at the first intermission. Zemgus Girgensons opened the scoring for Buffalo, ending a scoring drought for the Sabres in LA that dated back to 2010.

The Kings took over in the second period and tied the game with a power-play goal from Brown, but the Sabres weathered the storm with some help from Lehner and came out strong again in the third.

"Everything we did well in the first period we got away from in the second," Sabres coach Phil Housley said. "We started to get our game back in the third. I thought we [controlled] the majority of the play in the third but again, it just comes down to special teams."

The Sabres had the top-ranked power play in the NHL to end last season, but it has been an area of concern through five games. They did nearly convert on once chance in the third period, but Jonathan Quick robbed Seth Griffith when he tried to one-time a feed from Eichel near the net. 

The Sabres are now 2-for-19 on the power play this season.

"I think we've just got to mentally be a lot sharper," Kane said. "It's little things, breakout passes, not executing on our breakouts. When you don't do that, you're not going to have very good entries. I think that's where it starts and we need to find ways to gain possession in their zone."

Just like in their loss to San Jose on Thursday, the Sabres were left feeling like in spite of what they did well, small errors had cost them their first win of the season. Housley was generally happy with how they played in both games, and said if they continue to play that way then they'll turn a corner.

Their next chance is less than 24 hours away, against the Anaheim Ducks on Sunday. 

"It's frustrating," Kane said. "We're trying to get our first win of the season. got a game tomorrow and we've got to try to cut the cord here and focus on that and not have this linger over to tomorrow night."


Girgensons nets his first

After clicking on Thursday with a pair of goals, the line of Girgensons, Eichel and Jason Pominville produced again on the rush with Girgensons' goal in the first period. It was a mirror image of the second goal that Pominville scored in San Jose, with the play beginning on a breakout pass along the wall and ending with a good 2-on-1 feed from Eichel:

 Video: BUF@LAK: Girgensons slams home Eichel's nice feed


Nolan's return

The game marked a return to Los Angeles for Sabres forward Jordan Nolan, who spent the first six seasons of his career as a King prior to be claimed off of waivers by Buffalo last month.

Nolan won two Stanley Cups in LA, and he received a long ovation from the home crowd during a video tribute in the first period. On the ensuing shift, he did this to former teammate Alec Martinez:

Tweet from @BuffaloSabres: Jordan Nolan says hello to an old teammate Alec Martinez.

Sabres associate coach Davis Payne was also recognized with a tribute video in the first period. Payne served as an assistant coach in Los Angeles for six seasons, including the Stanley Cup winning season of 2013-14. 


Okposo scratched due to illness

Sabres forward Kyle Okposo did not play due to an illness. Okposo had previously missed the team's morning skate in San Jose on Thursday, but managed to skate 20:35 and record five shots against the Sharks that night. 

Housley said Friday morning that Okposo's condition was improving, and did not rule him out for Sunday's game in Anaheim. 

Up next

The Sabres will make the short drive southeast to Anaheim, where they'll continue their road trip against the Ducks at Honda Center on Sunday night. Coverage begins at 8:30 p.m. with GMC Gamenight on MSG-B, or you can listen live on WGR 550. The puck drops at 9 p.m.

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