When he joined the organization as a free agent in the summer, Kyle Okposo spoke about how his experience over the past few seasons with the New York Islanders had mirrored the one he was about to venture into with the Sabres. The Islanders have made the postseason for two-straight years now, but it was only three seasons ago that they were a young, talented team still learning how to win games.
Needless to say, there were losses like the ones the Sabres had on Tuesday in Philadelphia. They led the Flyers 3-0 entering the third period and 3-1 with less than four minutes remaining, but lost 4-3 in a shootout due to a combination of late-game turnovers and subsequent penalties.
"Oh yeah," Okposo said following practice at KeyBank Center on Wednesday. "I remember blowing a lot of two, three-goal leads on the Island three, four years ago. It's not fun to do that. At the same time, once you kind of figure out everything you need to do to keep those leads it just becomes of habit and you kind of do it automatically. I think we're gonna learn from this and hopefully come out better on the other side."
Taking a look back at the Islanders' schedule from three seasons ago, those games he's talking about aren't hard to find. Coming off a playoff berth in the lockout-shortened season the year prior, the Islanders lost seven one-goal games in October of the 2013-14 season. They blew a 2-0 lead in the third period and lost in a shootout to Columbus in their second game of that season and blew a one-goal lead with 3:01 remaining in regulation to Marcus Foligno and the Sabres 10 days later, a game they also lost in a shootout. Both were similar to what the Sabres went through Tuesday.
"I think, after a game like last night, we're a group that's still learning from that win," Okposo said. "We need to learn from that game, come in and talk about it and then put it in the rearview mirror. Make sure that we don't repeat the same mistakes that we did last game but at the same time, there are 82 of these things. If you start dwelling on a game and start dwelling on some of your mistakes, that's when you lose five in a row."
You put those games behind you, but you don't forget the feeling of losing them. Jake McCabe called the loss to Philadelphia "embarrassing" and "a brutal experience." Ryan O'Reilly called it "unacceptable." The Sabres felt the Flyers came out tired in the first two periods after playing in Montreal the night before, but allowed them to come back in the third with turnovers in the neutral zone that led directly to penalties.
The lesson, Okposo said, is that you can never count a team out and never lose attention to details. If the Sabres learn that moving forward, perhaps there was a silver lining from the loss in Philadelphia after all.
"I don't ever want to forget this one," Sabres coach Dan Bylsma said. "I think we can't forget it … If we want to be a good team, if we want to be a winning team, this is a game we have to learn a lesson from with how we played and we have to learn a lesson with how we're going to play going forward, and one we should never let happen again."
Lehner still under the weather
Robin Lehner did not make the trip to Philadelphia and missed practice again on Wednesday due to illness. Bylsma did not say whether Lehner or Anders Nilsson would start in net on Thursday against the Minnesota Wild.
"This is our fourth guy that's gotten ill and it's all kind of been about the same amount of time, about a two-day window," Bylsma said. "Robin's just a shade over those two days now. Hopefully he'll start feeling better here today. We'll see going forward in terms of him coming back to the ice."
26 Matt Moulson - 90 Ryan O'Reilly - 21 Kyle Okposo
63 Tyler Ennis - 23 Sam Reinhart - 28 Zemgus Girgensons
82 Marcus Foligno - 22 Johan Larsson - 12 Brian Gionta
52 Hudson Fasching - 27 Derek Grant - 44 Nicolas Deslauriers
4 Josh Gorges - 55 Rasmus Ristolainen
77 Dmitry Kulikov - 47 Zach Bogosian
29 Jake McCabe - 6 Cody Franson
34 Casey Nelson
31 Anders Nilsson
35 Linus Ullmark
The Sabres return to action at home against Wild on Thursday night. It will be Hockey Fights Cancer night at KeyBank Center, which will begin with special lavender jerseys worn in warmups to be auctioned following the game and a ceremonial faceoff. Lauren Hall has more on what is always a special night.
The puck drops Thursday at 7 p.m. Join our crew for Tops Sabres Gamenight on MSG-B at 6:30 p.m. or listen live on WGR 550.