By some measures, the effort put forth by the Buffalo Sabres against the Tampa Bay Lightning on Tuesday night could be perceived as up to par. The Sabres outshot the top team in the Eastern Conference 34-26 and held a 58-49 advantage in shot attempts.
For the second game in a row, however, the Sabres came up short in the measurement that matters. They were shut out for the second straight game while the Lightning scored twice on shots that deflected off Sabres defenders in a 2-0 Tampa Bay win.
Robin Lehner, who made 24 saves in the loss, best summed up the collective feeling in the Sabres' dressing room after the game.
"It wasn't a bad performance, but not good enough," Lehner said. "We're in a bad position … Good enough is not enough right now. We need to claw back, we need to do something special. It's unfortunate."
Video: TBL@BUF: Lehner makes a pair of strong saves in front
Lightning goalie Andrei Vasilevskiy improved his career record against the Sabres to 6-1-0 with the 34-save shutout, his second of the season. The Sabres were also shut out in a game they outshot their opponent against Carey Price and the Montreal Canadiens on Saturday.
It'd be easy to chalk up both of the goals allowed by the Sabres as simple misfortune. The Lightning got on the board with a power-play goal when Mikhail Sergachev's shot from the point deflected in off Johan Larsson's stick in the first period, then extended its lead when a Dan Girardi shot deflected in off Marco Scandella's leg in the second.
The Sabres' concern following the game, however, was less on bad breaks and more on what they didn't accomplish as a team. Phil Housley said his players could have made it harder on Vasilevskiy with their presence around the net, an area the team has yet to find consistency in this season.
Moreover, Housley and the veteran players who spoke after the game echoed each other in saying the Sabres needed to show more intensity from the opening puck drop.
"I have to look at where we're at in the standings and where the other team is at," Housley said. "I feel we need to play with more desperation from the start of the game. We can't be waiting and chasing games, and then we have to shorten the bench and all of a sudden we have the urgency when we're sort of backed into a corner.
"We have to have some attitude when we start the game. This is our home rink. We've got to get out and establish a forecheck, show more emotion on the ice."
Scandella spoke with a sternness in his voice while calling for the Sabres to show more pride on their home ice, where they fell to 3-8-1 with the loss. Lehner, too, said the Sabres need to establish KeyBank Center as a place where opponents can expect to leave with a "bunch of bruises."
"We have to be ready to play from the drop of the puck," Scandella said. "It's just not good enough right now. We can't go through games not scoring goals, we can't win games that way. It's not just on the forwards, it's not just on the D or the goalie. It's a collective effort. We have to have more pride in this dressing room and we have to find a way."
Evander Kane, who leads the team with 12 goals and had a game-high seven shots on Monday, has called in the past for the Sabres to play more like a team that has nothing to lose. The hope now may be that the frustration of back-to-back shutouts sparks an anger that in turn leads to offense.
"It's just a lack of hardness, we've got to bear down and score goals," Kane said. "You've got to be pissed off. You're a goal scorer and you're not scoring? Like, that should piss you off, that should make you want to score, that should make you want to throw every puck you possibly can to the net."
Risto leaves, but returns
The Sabres had a brief scare when Rasmus Ristolainen left the ice with an apparent injury after being shoved into the net by Lightning defenseman Braydon Coburn with 1:13 remaining in the second period. Ristolainen is only three games removed from a nine-game absence caused by an upper-body injury.
Ristolainen returned for the third period, however, and finished the contest with eight shot attempts (four on goal) in 25:09.
"He got a little stinger there but he was fine coming back," Housley said. "He's the one guy that did show emotion tonight and coming back after that, he's moving in the right direction."
The Sabres will conclude their season series against the Pittsburgh Penguins with a home-and-home set beginning at KeyBank Center on Friday night. The two teams will then meet for the final time this season in Pittsburgh on Saturday.
Coverage on Friday begins at 6:30 p.m. with GMC Gamenight on MSG-B. You can also listen live on WGR 550, with puck drop set for just after 7.