The Buffalo Sabres finally hit a rough patch in the road. Playing their fourth game in six nights and without four key starters due to injury, Buffalo drop a close 4-2 battle with the Ottawa Senators on Wednesday night.
The loss was Buffalo's first in five games and only the second during regulation. The team now moves to 15-2-1 on the season, having claimed 31 of a possible 36 points through 18 games.
Skating against the desperate Senators, who had lost seven of the team's last eight coming into the game, Buffalo was again without the services of defensemen Toni Lydman (neck) and Henrik Tallinder (broken arm), winger Maxim Afinogenov (upper body) and goaltender Ryan Miller (muscle strain).
The added strain of the four's absence in recent games coupled with the tight schedule, showed against Ottawa.
"We knew it was going to be tough," said Sabres head coach Lindy Ruff. "The schedule was against us and the amount of minutes that we've had to place on some guys was against us. But it doesn't get any easier so we're going to have to keep grinding it out."
Eating a lion share of the additional minutes was defenseman Brian Campbell, who put fourth one of his strongest performances of the season. Campbell skated in every situation and logged more than 30 minutes of ice time, the most minutes by a skater for either team.
His average shift time was a gaudy minute even.
"For a guy who played 30 minutes, he still didn't look like he had fatigue in his game," said Ruff of Campbell. "With a 2-1 lead, we thought we would run with five defensemen."
Rookie defenseman Mike Card's minute and 39 seconds of ice time was second lowest on the Sabres, next to enforcer Andrew Peters who skated a single shift for just over a minute.
To compensate for the disparity of minutes, Campbell played nearly eight minutes more than the next highest Sabres defenseman, Jaroslav Spacek.
"The only guy who had excessive minutes on defense was Brian," said Ruff. "He handled it well. Some of the other guys that played in the low 20's showed more fatigue than Brian did."
For the first time in five games, Buffalo's power-play unit failed to score a goal. The man advantage unit, which ranked fifth in the league entering Wednesday night, was held scoreless in 12 opportunities and failed to tie the game in the final two minutes when Jason Spezza was whistled for kneeing at 18:10.
The drought was a stark contrast to the recent game-winning exploits of the unit against Florida and Philadelphia.
"We had our chances on the power play, but it hasn't been going the way we want it to," said Jason Pominville. "We've got to be sharper. It's all about puck movement and right now we're having trouble getting setup."
Ruff had a different perspective on the power play's situation. He believes the struggles his units have been experiencing could be directly correlated to the injuries Buffalo has faced and the added minutes taken by the defense.
"We have two very important people out on our penalty killing unit," said Ruff referring to Lydman and Tallinder. "We end up using power-play defensemen [Campbell and Spacek] and it effects our game going to other way.
"We know there are no excuses. We have to play with people out of the lineup and it's going to take a very determined effort to win every night."
It was dTjà vu for Andrej Mezaros in the first period, as his mishandle led to Buffalo's first goal. Remoniscent of his giveaway that led to Chris Drury's overtime winner in Game 1 of the Sabres/Senators series, Mezaros whiffed on his clearing attempt, leaving Daniel Briere with a clear shooting lane.
The Sabres co-captain pulled back and released a wicked slapshot into the top-left corner of the net eighth of the season and fifth in as many games at 5:36 of the opening period.
The Senators answered four minutes later on their first power-play opportunity of the night after Drew Stafford was whistled for delay of game - puck over the glass.
The 27th ranked man-advantage unit in the league improved its scoring streak to five games as Chris Neil snapped a wristshot along the goal line just above Martin Biron's right shoulder at 9:36. The Sabres netminder suffered his first loss in seven starts this season after making 19 saves.
Ottawa netminder Ray Emery giftwrapped Thomas Vanek's 12th goal of the season as his kick save on Stafford's wristshot from the landed on the tape of the second-year professional's stick. Vanek fired into the wide-open net for his fifth goal in as many games and gave Buffalo the 2-1 lead at 2:54 of the second.
A pair of redirections by Spezza and Peter Schaefer at 6:32 and 12:49 gave the Senators their first lead of the game.
Chris Phillips clearing pass rebounded off the boards and into the empty net with 57 seconds remaining in regulation to make the score 4-2 in favor of Ottawa. --------------------------------------------------------------- SCORING SHEETS Game Summary | Super Stats | Face-offs | Play-by-Play | Shift Chart