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Scoring struggles continue in loss to Tampa Bay

by Jourdon LaBarber @jourdonlabarber /

If you're looking for a microcosm of the Buffalo Sabres' current six-game winless streak, look no further than the save Tampa Bay Lightning goaltender Ben Bishop made on Kyle Okposo in the second period of their game Thursday night.

Bishop played the puck behind the net, but made the mistake of passing it to an oncoming Okposo. With no bodies separating him and the open net, Okposo took what could've been the game-tying shot from the high slot.

Bishop wrapped around the net, dove in front and somehow made the glove save. Instead of a 1-1 tie, the Sabres stayed down a goal and went on to lose the contest 4-1. Okposo's chance was simply the most memorable in yet another game full of near-makes and costly misses.

"You certainly felt it in every chance that we had and every opportunity that we had in the first two periods, even the frustration building with getting looks, getting empty nets, getting golden opportunities," Sabres coach Dan Bylsma said afterward. 

"It's kind of the feeling where you're snake-bitten and you're struggling to find a goal and even though you're getting great opportunities, you're not going to find it."

The frustration could be felt in the dressing room after Buffalo's sixth-straight loss and their ninth-straight performance of two goals or less. As was the case in many of those games, Buffalo's chances nearly mirrored those of their opponent - shots were 38-33 in favor of Tampa Bay - but whether they were drilling the post or missing an open net, the results weren't there.

Once they finally did get a goal, from Cody Franson on the power play to make it 2-1 with 7:10 still remaining in the second period, the Sabres seemed ready to come back. They had the wind taken out of their sails, however, when a turnover in the neutral zone led to Nikita Kucherov scoring the Lightning's third goal with just 17.5 seconds remaining prior to the second intermission.

"Yeah, we can't give up goals like that," said Sabres forward Evander Kane, who earned his first point of the season with an assist on Franson's goal. "Down 2-0, we're playing well, we're outplaying them. We score a big power-play goal, [Franson] makes a big shot, and then we give one up with 17 seconds. 

"That's something that losing teams do and right now that's what we are, so we have to be much better, much harder to play against and much hungrier in terms of wanting to get the next goal and guys wanting to have the puck on their stick and make plays and be the guy. 

Video: KANE: Postgame interview

"That's has to be everybody, not just our top guys, and our top guys need to be better," Kane continued. "Including myself, big time. You've got to want to have to the puck on your stick, you've got to want to be the difference maker and right now we don't have enough of that."

Watch: Dan Bylsma | Watch: Cody Franson | Watch: Kyle Okposo

The Sabres did have chances to get back into the game thanks to two power plays within the first 10 minutes of the third period, but they came up empty-handed both times. Buffalo was 1-for-5 on the power play overall with nine shots.

"That's the theme," Kane said. "We've scored 11 goals in the last nine games and you're not going to win many games - if any - scoring like that. We've got to find a way to create more - not even create more, just bear down and bury them. Just get hungrier. And I think that's the theme, I mean it must be a joke right now. If you score two goals against the Buffalo Sabres, you're gonna win the game. We've got to end that."

At a time when scoring goals has been hard to come by thanks in part to the absence of their top two centers in Ryan O'Reilly and Jack Eichel, an even greater emphasis is placed on limiting their opponents' chances. While the Sabres played well against the Lightning at times, simple mistakes led to the goals against.

In addition to Kucherov, Nikita Nesterov, Alex Killorn and Brayden Point all scored goals for the Lightning. Sabres goalie Robin Lehner ended his night with 34 saves on 38 shots.

"It's a frustrating time for us right now," Franson said. "There are games that we're doing a lot of good things in and some areas, it comes down to the smallest things of execution that are biting us right now. 

"A missed pass here becomes a turnover, creates defensive zone time and for us we have to play a very stingy style of hockey right now. When we're giving up four goals it's not making it any easier on ourselves when we're having trouble scoring."

The Sabres won't have time to hang their heads. If they're to snap their losing streak before it reaches seven games, they'll have to do it against the defending Stanley Cup champion Pittsburgh Penguins at home on Saturday night. 

"We've got to show some mental toughness and come back tomorrow and go to work," Okposo said. "We've got to go to work tomorrow, we've got to watch video, figure out what we need to do better and got to go to work and Saturday we have a big game against the defending Stanley Cup Champions and we've got to come out hard, come out a similar way but we've got to find an extra gear and put the puck in the net."


Franson scores one for the defense

Franson's goal was not only his first, it was the first one scored by a Sabres defenseman this season. He caught the puck in the low circle and immediately took his shot to finally put the Sabres on the board. 

Video: TBL@BUF: Franson nets PPG for first of the season

"One of our focuses was to try and generate more from our back end offensively just because of the struggles we've been having to score," Franson said. "It's a work in progress. I think we're doing some good things, not necessarily always getting the shots and goals from defensemen, but sometimes creating space for our forwards that are coming up that half wall and things like that. 

"We're trying to be a tougher team to check in the offensive zone and give ourselves more chances because of that, so that's definitely been a focus of ours. It was nice to see one go tonight but still not good enough."


PK streak snapped

The Sabres allowed two power-play goals, which ended their perfect home penalty kill at 17-for-17. If you ask Bylsma, Buffalo's scoring drought might have even gotten into the heads of its penalty killers. Kane and Brian Gionta tried to score on an even-man rush while shorthanded, which resulted with a 4-on-2 rush going back the other way that ended with Killorn's goal to make it 2-0 in the second period.  

"It was 2-on-3 and Evander probably had an opportunity to shoot the puck coming down the boards and tried to make a play and their both still searching for the puck to get a shot on net there," Bylsma said. 


The homestand continues

The Sabres will host the second contest of their current four-game homestand when they welcome Sidney Crosby and Penguins into KeyBank Center on Saturday. Coverage on Saturday begins with the TOPS Pregame Show on MSG, or you can listen live on WGR 550. The puck drops at 7 p.m.

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