The Buffalo Sabres have been fighting the flu and injuries to key contributors over the past week or so and the results on the ice have been indicative of those struggles.
Buffalo entered the third period of their game against the Tampa Bay Lighting on Wednesday down a goal. However, the Lightning scored three in the third while the Sabres were only able to register one shot on goal in the final period.
Ondrej Palat had a four-point night for Tampa Bay as they defeated the Sabres 5-1 at First Niagara Center on New Year’s Eve. Tyler Ennis scored Buffalo’s lone goal.
The Lightning outshot Buffalo 25-11 in the game. Jhonas Enroth made 20 saves for Buffalo while Andrei Vasilevskly stopped 10 Sabres shots.
Buffalo entered the game 9-2-0 in their past 11 games on home ice. However in their past seven games overall, they’ve been outscored 33-15 and are 1-5-1 in that stretch. Whether injuries were a factor or not, Sabres alternate captain Josh Gorges believes that the success they’ve had was the result of a work ethic they haven’t shown in recent games.
“That just goes to show when you are doing the right things and playing the right way, you give yourself a chance to win. And you’re not going to win every night even if you play a good game, but you give yourself a chance,” Gorges said. “You play the way we played tonight and some of the other nights lately, you don’t have a chance. It’s just not the right way to play hockey.”
Sabres forward Cody McCormick thought the team could’ve countered the Lightning’s attack with more zone time and harder work in the corners and in front of the net.
“They’re a fast team. They were backchecking on us pretty hard and I think we could’ve gotten to the hard areas a little more tonight,” he said.
Tampa Bay opened the scoring 7:48 into the game when Matt Carle one-timed a pass from Ondrej Palat past Enroth.
Buffalo’s power play came to life to tie the game. Ennis’ shot from above the right faceoff dot deflected off the stick of Lightning defenseman Victor Hedman and in past goaltender Andrei Vasilevskly.
Buffalo’s power play had been cold the past few games. They hadn’t scored with the man advantage in four games.
Palat scored with 58.0 seconds left on a Lightning power play to take a 2-1 lead. His high wrist shot beat Enroth on the Lightning’s 11th shot of the game.
The Lightning increased their lead with Brett Connolly’s goal 5:20 into the third period.
“That second goal hurt us a little bit but that third goal really broke our back and we just didn’t have enough energy,” Sabres coach Ted Nolan said, who noted that the locker room has been filled with players who are coughing and sniffling, trying to grind their way through the game. “We just have to hopefully get better, get healed and get back on track.”
Sabres defenseman Mike Weber also thought Connolly’s goal played a huge role in deflating the team’s spirits. The Lightning controlled the play in the third period, resulting in Buffalo putting just one shot on net in the third.
“I think the early one took the wind out of our sails there. We just never recovered. It just seemed like they were getting some good bounces off some wide shots, rebounds that we weren’t picking up guys in front,” he said.
“That’s on the defensive corps. We didn’t do a very good job of clearing out guys on the back door for Jhonas. He’s been playing great for us as of late and we really hung him out to dry.”
Then the line of Palat, Tyler Johnson and Nikita Kucherov struck again when Kucherov tallied 3:20 later. Then with 1:55 remaining in regulation, Kucherov scored again to make it 5-1.
Kucherov finished with a two goals and an assist and Johnson recorded three helpers to help the winning cause. The Lightning have now won four games in a row and
“We knew what we had in front of us coming into this. I think we got out-worked and that’s not something we want to creep into our game,” McCormick said. “It is one game. We want to clean that up and we’ve got a big road trip coming up so we better get it dialed in here.”
The Sabres are back at it Friday night at First Niagara Center against the Florida Panthers at 7 p.m. for their first game of 2015.
They’ll then leave right after the game for a four-game road trip on which they’ll face the New York Rangers, New Jersey Devils, Carolina Hurricanes and the Lightning once again.