Inconsistency has been a problem all season long for the Buffalo Sabres, and it reared its head again against the Toronto Maple Leafs on Monday night.
Facing the same Maple Leafs team that they scored five goals against in an emotional win just nine days ago, the Sabres admitted they came out without the appropriate level of energy. It ended up costing them in a 4-2 loss.
"We just came out flat," Sabres captain Brian Gionta said. "We had no intensity to the game, no push-back at all. It's disappointing."
Video: O'Reilly, Eichel score in 4-2 loss
The low point of a first period in which the Sabres were outshot 18-2 came early, when Toronto jumped on Buffalo with three goals - from Leo Komarov, Auston Matthews and James van Riemsdyk - in a span of 43 seconds.
The goals weren't all that different from the ones that cost them their game against the Islanders on Sunday. Komarov's goal stemmed from a turnover on a breakout pass from behind the goal line. Matthews' goal came after William Nylander won a race to a loose puck in the Sabres zone. Van Riemsdyk's came directly off a faceoff.
Van Riemsdyk's goal chased Robin Lehner after he had faced just five shots in 5:09 of play. Anders Nilsson replaced him and made 39 saves, with the lone goal he allowed coming from Nazem Kadri on the power play in the third period.
"They were gifts," Sabres coach Dan Bylsma said. "They were gaffes. A turnover and it's a 2-on-0 on our goalie and the faceoff goal [is] really no different, we just were standing there, we missed our assignments and it's an easy goal for them.
" … In the first 10 minutes of the game we come out and we basically handed them two of the goals for sure. That's no way to start a hockey game."
Ryan O'Reilly seemed to provide a momentum boost when he scored a shorthanded goal early in the second period. The Sabres had killed off 13 seconds of 5-on-3 play coming out of intermission, and as the power play drew to a close, O'Reilly picked up the puck along the boards in the neutral zone, turned around Jake Gardiner at the Toronto blue line and beat Frederick Andersen 1-on-1 from the right circle.
Video: TOR@BUF: O'Reilly nets SHG with beautiful wrist shot
In the past this season, we've seen those types of goals spark comebacks for the Sabres. In this game, they went on to be outshot 45-22 on the night and didn't get their second goal until Jack Eichel scored on a breakaway with 55.6 seconds remaining.
"We didn't have much all night," Gionta said. "It would've been nice to try and get a push back there but it just wasn't there."
Eichel in particular was hard on himself following the game, saying that he felt it was on him to be better and that he never felt sharp in a game that should have been easy to get up for. Both he and the Sabres will look to gain what they can in their remaining three games.
"I wasn't very good tonight and I'm sure that a lot of other guys in this room can say the same," he said. "We played a good hockey team that was hungry and they beat us in all facets of the game. So we've got three games left here. We'd like to turn things around, win a couple games. That's all you can do. It makes it a lot better coming to the rink every day when you win."
Video: NYLANDER: Postgame
Despite the fact that he was making his NHL debut, Alexander Nylander said he never felt nervous in the minutes leading up to the game. Maybe that stems from the fact that his dad, Michael, played in the NHL, or that his older brother William was on the other side.
Alex said it's more likely just a personality trait, and he played well enough early that he ended up earning an opportunity alongside Ryan O'Reilly and Evander Kane on the top line.
"I thought he had a couple good shifts, a good shift there in the second period with Evan [Rodrigues] and Marcus [Foligno] and that was probably our best shift in the second period and then some good opportunity with him and Ryan and Evander there in the third period," Bylsma said. "He showed some puck skills, showed some poise with the puck, just not in a winning effort."
"I think we had some scoring chances, found some chemistry there," Alex said. "Unfortunately the puck didn't go in but just keep going if I play with [O'Reilly] again [I need to] just use my skating to try to create plays with him."
Nylander ended the game having skated 14:28, including a 26-second shift on the power play in the third period.
The Sabres will play their final home game of the season when they host the Montreal Canadiens at on Wednesday night. It will be the fourth and final matchup between the two teams. Buffalo is 1-2-0 against Montreal this season.
It will be Fan Appreciation Day at KeyBank Center. The first 10,000 fans through the gates will receive One Buffalo sun glasses, with more giveaways to follow during the game. Player awards will also be handed out prior to puck drop.
More information, including special ticket packages, can be found here.
Can't make it to the game? Coverage on MSG-B begins at 7 p.m. with the Tops Pregame Show on MSG-B, or you can listen live on WGR 550. The puck drops between the Sabres and Canadiens at 7:30.