Robin Lehner didn't try to overanalyze the game following a 2-1 shootout loss for the Buffalo Sabres to the Detroit Red Wings at KeyBank Center on Wednesday night. In his mind, the loss could be chalked up to two deciding factors: the Sabres' current tendency to hit the posts with their shots, and his own current struggles to make saves in shootouts.
"We have four posts," Lehner said. "You can say whatever you want, we have four posts. Any one of them could've gone in and we could've won in regular time or we could've won in overtime. We could've won in a shootout, but I'm not really making those saves right now."
Video: LEHNER: Postgame
Buffalo did indeed have its fair share of chances throughout the game that just didn't materialize into goals. It began in the first period, when Johan Larsson backhanded the puck into the net but the goal was waved off because a whistle had been blown, and continued into the third period of a 1-1 tie and then into overtime.
Once the game got to a shootout, Sam Reinhart scored on a backhand for the Sabres while Kyle Okposo and Cal O'Reilly were stopped on their chances. The Red Wings only needed two shooters: Gustav Nyquist, who beat Lehner between the pads, and former Sabre Thomas Vanek, who scored with his patented "around the world" snap shot he'd used so many times in blue and gold.
"Every shooter for me right now is a tough shooter," Lehner said. "I'm not really in the zone in the shootouts, if you put it lightly. I've been practicing it every day and in the practice I'm stopping the puck and in the games I'm not. A point slipped away and it sucks, but again, four posts."
The Sabres best chances in overtime came from Ryan O'Reilly, who made his return to the lineup after a five-game absence due to an oblique injury. With the puck down low in the offensive zone, O'Reilly treated the Red Wings players like obstacles in one his post-practice stick-handling drills. O'Reilly spun and dangled defenders to take a shot on net, and then went and retrieved the puck on the forecheck so he could do it again.
When his second shot was kicked out, Rasmus Ristolainen took what Sabres coach Dan Bylsma called his "patented move," driving wide and cutting across the net-front like he was in the World Junior Championship all over again. But his shot was stopped too, and his attempt on a rebound went off the post.
"It's on us," O'Reilly said. "Even the first, it doesn't matter, I think, possession, whether it's hits faceoffs and shots … It's putting the puck in the net. I myself have to find a way to do that early and provide life because you just see it too many times, we fall into that and we know it's 'OK, we can't get scored on or it's gonna be a tough way to come back."
On one hand, the Sabres can look at this game and come away knowing they outshot and out chanced the Red Wings, and that they likely would've won had won more puck missed the post. On the other hand, they admitted that pulling their record to .500 was a goal of theirs - a win would've given them 20 points in 20 games - and they came up short of that goal by missing their opportunities.
"You kind of feel that a number of times," Bylsma said. "Obviously tonight's game we're right there, we're leaving a point on the table with just not burying that chance, not getting that goal right there at the end in overtime. You can look at the shootout loss against Ottawa and the overtime against New Jersey and those would add three wins in the column and that would be a huge difference for us."
The Sabres next chance to get to .500 will come Friday, when they play on the road against the Washington Capitals.
The Red Wings struggled to break the puck out their defensive zone in the first period, which is evident in their eight giveaways through the first 20 minutes. Some of those turnovers led directly to scoring chances - Marcus Foligno, Sam Reinhart and Evander Kane were all recipients of misguided passes by the Red Wings - but the Sabres were unable to capitalize.
"In the first period we were playing a patient game, we were a good team, we played good defensively, [and] we got opportunities from that defense," Bylsma said. "We weren't able to get it home."
The Sabres weren't as dominant in the second period, and it was a breakout pass that finally put Detroit on the board. Ryan Sproul made a stretch pass from the defensive zone to hit Vanek at the offensive blue line. Vanek made a turn-around pass across the net to set up Nyquist for a one-time goal to give Detroit a 1-0 lead with four minutes remaining in the period.
"We got away from our game," said Brian Gionta, who scored Buffalo's only goal of the game. "We got a couple back-to-back penalties in the second there, kind of lost our momentum, kept some of our top guys off the ice, stuff like that but I thought we came out in the third with a little more energy and we definitely created more chances."
Evander Kane was responsible for creating Buffalo's goal in the third period, beginning when he carried the puck into the offensive zone. Kane used a crossover move to skate by Detroit defenseman Jonathan Ericsson, then used his body to gain position and toss the puck off the pad of goalie Jimmy Howard as he skated by the net.
Video: DET@BUF: Gionta ties the game with rebound goal
Gionta followed in on the rush and knocked the puck into the net off of Kane's rebound. Detroit challenged for goalie interference to no avail, giving Gionta his fourth goal of the season and tying the score at 1-1 with 18:18 remaining in regulation.
"That's where he's best at," Gionta said of Kane. "When he's skating like that, he's moving, he's tough. He's a big body, tough to stop, so that's what we're looking for out of him."
O'Reilly plays big minutes in his return
O'Reilly led all forwards with 22:48 of ice time in his return to the ice. He said he felt fine physically throughout the game, but Bylsma thought he may have over-extended himself in certain situations.
"I think at time he was a little extended in his energy level," Bylsma said. "He's a great player, but he extended himself in a couple shifts and got stuck out there in the second, one of those long shifts and then the overtime he got stuck out again … He was kind of just where he wanted to be at the end of the game with a chance to win the game with the puck on his stick a couple times in overtime."
If you're planning to shop overnight, make sure you're at least awake by 4:30 p.m. on Black Friday. That's when the TOPS Pregame Show will begin in advance of the Sabres' game in Washington, D.C. against the Capitals. The game can also be heard live on WGR 550, with puck drop scheduled for 5 p.m.