TORONTO – Coming off a hard-fought victory in San Jose on Saturday, the Buffalo Sabres hoped to carry some of that momentum into their game Tuesday night against the Toronto Maple Leafs.
However, things didn’t go as they hoped, and they lost the game by a score of 4-0 at Air Canada Centre.
“We had nothing. Toronto had everything going. They were skating well. They deserved everything they got and we deserved exactly what we got,” Sabres coach Ted Nolan said. “…Sometimes if your feet ain’t moving, at least your brain should be thinking a little bit. Tonight we had neither.”
Buffalo was outshot 29-8 after two periods and managed only two shots on net in the third period. Their first shot in the final frame didn’t come until just 6:05 was left on the clock.
The Sabres set a franchise record for fewest shots on goal in a game with 10. The previous record was 11, set on Dec. 3, 1981 in Boston. The Sabres lost that game 6-3.
The Sabres have scored just three goals in their past six games and have been shut out four times. They have 10 total non-shootout goals in 10 games this season.
“We’re not doing the things that we need to do to score goals, to get ourselves in position,” Sabres captain Brian Gionta said. “We’ve got to come up with support through the zone and get pucks deep and work their D down low. It’s pretty simple and we’re just not doing that right now.”
Gionta said it comes down to how hard the team is willing to work.
“Right now, we lose all the 1-on-1 battles. As a result, you spend a lot of time in your own zone,” he said. “We’re not responsible with the puck at the blue lines. Turnovers lead to odd-man rushes, guys out of position. It’s a snowball effect.”
Buffalo’s power play went 0-for-2 in the game, making them 0-for-32 on the season. The Minnesota Wild is the only other team without a power-play goal this season (0-for-26).
HOLDING DOWN THE FORT
The Buffalo Sabres penalty killers and their goaltender did all they could do to keep the team in the game.
The Sabres penalty killing units held strong in the first 20, stopping a Toronto 5-on-3 man advantage that lasted 1:09. Zemgus Girgensons blocked two shots during that extended kill.
They were almost perfect through two periods until the Maple Leafs capitalized with 49.6 seconds to play. Tyler Bozak pounced on a loose puck at the Sabres blue line, skated in and beat Michal Neuvirth glove side with a wrist shot.
“It was a big goal for them,” Neuvirth said. “I think we could go in the locker room tied 0-0, it would be a different story in the third.”
The Maple Leafs peppered Michal Neuvirth with 17 shots on goal in the first period alone. Thirteen more attempts didn’t even reach the net. Toronto finished with 73 total shot attempts to Buffalo’s 36.
Neuvirth made 33 saves, including nine while shorthanded. He had 28 saves by the end of the second period.
The 26-year-old netminder, acquired in a trade with Washington last season, has been sharing the net with Jhonas Enroth and Nolan has been pleased with how both have played so far this season.
“Both goaltenders, from the start, everybody thought that was going to be our weakness and right now it’s our strength,” Nolan said. “Both goaltenders give us a chance every night and that score in the first period could’ve been a lot worse. Going into the third period, we still had a fluky chance of something happening but our goaltenders have been great.”
Toronto’s power playing finished 1-for-6. The Sabres however, know they can’t commit so many penalties if they want to be able to stay in games.
“We spend that much time in our own zone, we’re going to take penalties. Guys are going to get tired. I think it’s just nature down there in the D-zone,” Sabres defenseman Tyler Myers, who logged a team-high 5:07 of shorthanded ice time, said.
“[Ten] shots goes to show how much time we actually did spend in our own zone and you end up battling for a minute, two minutes, eventually you’re going to take a penalty.”
The newly formed line of Phil Kessel, Nazem Kadri and Joffrey Lupul wreaked havoc on the Sabres defense early on and generated some quality scoring chances, especially in the early going.
Kessel eventually got one when to make it 2-0 when he banked one in off Neuvirth from behind the net 4:18 into the third. Kessel had just gotten onto the ice during a line change and accepted a pass from Mike Santorelli to put in the tough angle shot.
“I’ve got to have that. He’s a smart player, a great goal scorer. He scores goals like that,” Neuvirth said. “That’s what we’ve got to do. Just throw puck at the net and good things happen.”
Exactly one minute later, James van Riemsdyk scored to give Toronto a 3-0 lead. Jake Gardiner tucked home a wraparound at the 9:17 mark of the third to close out the scoring.
“Going into the third, we’re only one down and we come out even worse than we did in the first two, so something’s got to change here,” Myers said. “…Our focus is trying to move forward. We’ve hit rock bottom already going from last year. But we can talk about it all we want after games, we can have as meeting as we want.
“Until we as a group make up our minds that we’re going to play a certain way, the way we have to play to be competitive in every game, it’s just not going to work.”
Jonathan Bernier earned the shutout for Toronto.
The Boston Bruins come to town on Thursday for a 7 p.m. match against the Sabres at First Niagara Center. Boston defeated the Sabres 4-0 in Buffalo on Oct. 18. The Tops Gamenight pregame show begins at 6:30 p.m. on MSG-B and Bell TV.
The Sabres coaching staff hope a hungry and determined group shows up to make a difference against the Bruins.
“Tough times don’t last too long, but tough people do,” Nolan said. “They’ve just got to find a way to do it. If you want to put your head down and turn the other way when things get tough, things will continue to get tough here the whole time. We’ve just got to find that inner strength somehow to fight through it.”