DALLAS - If there was a common sentiment in the visiting dressing room at American Airlines Center on Saturday night, it was that the Buffalo Sabres played better than the score of their loss to the Dallas Stars would indicate.
Indeed, the Sabres controlled the play for the first three minutes of the game until a goal for Remi Elie snowballed into a 4-0 deficit by period's end. The Sabres outshot the Stars the rest of the way, but were only able to bury one of their chances in an eventual 5-1 loss.
"When I evaluate the game, I think we played well," Sabres coach Phil Housley said. "The score tells you differently, and there's probably going to be a lot of people that disagree with me. But I think we got the start we wanted. There were some bad bounces that occurred."
Robin Lehner got the start in net for the Sabres, but was pulled after allowing three goals on seven shots. Elie and Radek Faksa both scored on rebounds off of Lehner's pad, while Stephen Johns scored with a wrist shot on the rush to chase Lehner after just 10:27 had passed in the contest.
Lehner, who was coming off of a performance in Arizona in which he made several big saves to keep the Sabres in the game early, admitted to making a mistake on Elie's goal. The rebound that led to Faksa's goal, he said, came after the puck jumped over his stick.
"I have to be better," he said. "It's a game of mistakes, I made a mistake there, and together with a bounce and a good goal there it's 3-0. It's unfortunate."
"I just thought we needed to change the goalie, maybe change the momentum," Housley said. "It's unfortunate. If I asked him if he'd want those three back, he probably would. It's one of those things. He played really well in Arizona, tonight it wasn't the case."
Chad Johnson made 13 saves on 15 shots in relief. With the Stars on the power play, Tyler Seguin beat Johnson with a one-time shot from the left faceoff circle to extend their lead to 4-0 with 7:09 remaining in the first period.
The Sabres collected themselves in the first intermission, and a comeback seemed to be within the realm of possibility when Ryan O'Reilly scored off of a faceoff to cut the deficit to 4-1. But in spite of an 11-4 shot advantage at period's end, the four-goal deficit remained after Antoine Roussel scored to cap a long shift in the Buffalo zone with 1:10 remaining.
"You could see right away, we were physical and then [we have] a couple bad bounces," O'Reilly said. "They happen. You still could make better plays in those situations, but a couple bad bounces took the wind out of our sails. It was tough."
Going against Dallas' top-ranked power play and third-ranked penalty kill, special teams figured to factor into the game. The Sabres went 0-for-4 with the extra man, including one chance immediately following O'Reilly's goal in the second and two to begin the third.
The Stars, who boast the NHL's top power play, scored on their only opportunity of the night.
"I think we had some good chances on the power play," forward Jack Eichel said. "We moved it well. Obviously on that first one it was a bit frustrating, we weren't able to get it set up. But I think after that, we had some good chances. We probably want a few back."
Kari Lehtonen was strong in net for the Stars with 27 saves on 28 shots, including a glove save of a Jason Pominville deflection with Buffalo on the power play in the first period.
With the loss, the Sabres split their two-game road trip and fall to 4-8-2 this season. Their next game is at home on Tuesday night against the Washington Capitals.
"We did a lot of good things," Eichel said. "We had some chances. It just seems like we have those little mental lapses and it always ends up in our net. Playing a team like that, with a lot of skill up front, they come at you in bunches and they're fast. They made us pay."
Ristolainen sits due to injury
Rasmus Ristolainen did not play due to an upper-body injury and is day-to-day. In his absence, Marco Scandella led the team with 23:15 of ice time while Matt Tennyson, Justin Falk and Victor Antipin all played 19-plus minutes.
The Sabres begin a two-game homestand when they host Alexander Ovechkin and the Washington Capitals at KeyBank Center on Tuesday night. Coverage begins at 6:30 p.m. with GMC Gamenight on MSG-B, or you can listen live on WGR 550. The puck drops at 7 p.m.