ANAHEIM – In the end, what the Anaheim Ducks were able to do on their only goal of the game in a 1-0 win was also what the Buffalo Sabres lacked the most in an otherwise well-played game against the League's hottest team on Wednesday night.
Anaheim stacked the front of the net on its first power play of the game early in the second period, and Sami Vatanen took a shot from the high slot that saw its way through the net-front traffic, beating a well-screened Robin Lehner across his body.
The Sabres were never able to generate that presence in front of Ducks goaltender Frederik Andersen on a 0-for-4 night on the power play and were left afterward feeling like they'd lost a winnable game.
"Well I think that's probably where we did come up short," Sabres coach Dan Bylsma said. "I don’t think we got enough bodies in front of Andersen, not enough pucks there to get that opportunity."
Andersen made 26 saves for his first shutout of the season while Lehner made 28 for Buffalo in the loss. Lehner echoed his coach's thoughts after the game, saying that the team needs to get stronger in front of both nets.
"It's something we want to get better at for sure," Lehner said. "But it's a skill. It's a skill, it's not something you just do, it's a skill of getting there, it's a skill of getting in the goalie's face, it's a skill of reading off each other. It's something we've got to work on."
The win was Anaheim's sixth in a row. The Ducks, who lead the NHL with 46 goals since the All-Star break, hadn't been held to one goal since Jan. 10. But the Sabres weren't searching for silver linings after the game.
"I'm not going to be satisfied with being stride-for-stride with a good hockey team," Bylsma said. "We had every opportunity I think to get a few goals in that game and win the hockey game and we come up short. That's certainly a good team we're playing, they're one of the better teams if not the hottest team in the League right now. It's still one I think we should have."
CLOSE CALLS FOR THE SABRES
The Sabres had two great looks at rebounds in front of seemingly open nets, but were unsuccessful both times. The first chance came for Justin Bailey, who had a shot at his first NHL goal in the second period when, on a 3-on-1 rush, Evander Kane took a shot that bounced out of Andersen's glove right to the rookie.
Bailey backhanded the rebound from right outside the goal line, but Andersen was somehow able to get his pad over in time to stop the puck.
"I think some of the best looks we had we just didn’t execute on," Bylsma said. "We didn’t capitalize on the opportunities."
The Sabres had another chance in the third period; this time after Andersen made a strong save on Marcus Foligno. Brian Gionta, who put a game-high seven shots on goal, had a chance at the rebound in the blue paint but was unable to connect.
"It's a tough one. A couple you'd like to have back but you've got to find a way," Gionta said. "We had some good chances but we just didn’t capitalize."
SOMETHING HAD TO GIVE
Between the Sabres' penalty kill, which entered the contest 18-for-18 in its last four games, and the Ducks' power play, which had scored in its last five games, one streak was going to have to end on Wednesday night.
The matchup was put to the test for the first time when Mark Pysyk was called for interference 2:21 into the second period, and Anaheim's power play came out on top with Vatanen's goal. Buffalo started a new streak by killing Anaheim's next two power plays, but the damage was done.
"They're an explosive team and, for the most part, our penalty kill did a great job against a top power play," Gionta said. "They've really been clicking lately, they get the wrister to just find its way in but that's what's frustrating. We're right there."
IT'S SHARK WEEK
The Sabres will head upstate to continue their road trip against the Sharks in San Jose on Friday night. It will be the second meeting between the two teams, with the Sharks having won the first game 2-1 in overtime on Nov. 14.
Coverage on Friday begins at 10 p.m. with Tops Sabres Gamenight on MSG-B and Bell TV. The game can also be heard live on WGR 550.