VANCOUVER – For the fifth game in a row, the Buffalo Sabres scored the first goal. However, as has happened in the past 14 games, they’ve been on the losing end when the final horn sounds.
Buffalo lost its 14th consecutive game in regulation Friday night in a 5-2 loss to the Vancouver Canucks at Rogers Arena.
Chris Stewart scored twice on the power play for Buffalo and goaltender Matt Hackett made 33 saves in his first NHL game since April 12. Bo Horvat, Yannick Weber, Nick Bonino, Chris Higgins and Radim Vrbata scored for Vancouver. Former Sabres goaltender Ryan Miller made 20 saves to earn the victory.
The mounting losses continue to be a cause for concern, especially since Buffalo’s upcoming schedule doesn’t get any easier. They next play Tuesday night in Montreal, the site of their last road win, which came on Nov. 29.
“It stings. It stings for sure,” Stewart said. “We’ve got such a good group of guys in this room and no one’s happy about it. It’s disgusting when you think about it.
“But it’s not from a lack of effort. Teams kick you when you’re down and they’re not going to take it easy on you. They’re going to go for 15, 16, 17.
“No one’s going to want to be that team who kind of gave up that losing streak to us. We’re going into Montreal and that’s a team that we’ve been playing well against lately, but they’re going to be ready for us.”
Penalty troubles didn’t help Buffalo’s cause. After surrendering a goal in the final minute of the first period that tied the game 1-1, Andrej Meszaros committed a hooking penalty as the period expired, putting Vancouver on the power play to start the second.
Not long after Yannick Weber scored on that power play, Sabres captain Brian Gionta went to the box for interference. Vancouver scored again to go up 3-1.
“I put that on myself. Bad penalty there and it cost us the game,” Gionta said. “You go down 3-1, we’re struggling right now so that definitely hurts. We battled. We tried but we’ve got to find ways to win no matter what.”
Buffalo was on the power play early in the third when it was negated by a high-sticking penalty charged to Drew Stafford. Higgins scored in the 4-on-4 situation to make it 4-2. The Sabres have now been outscored 61-21 over the course of the losing streak.
“When things go bad, things go bad,” Sabres coach Ted Nolan said. “Every time we make a mistake, it seems be in our net.”
BACK BETWEEN THE PIPES
Hackett’s last game with the Sabres finished with him leaving midway through the third period with a right knee injury. Bruins forward Torey Krug crashed the net and fell on him and Hackett had to be stretched off the ice, beginning a long rehab process.
He returned to AHL action on Jan. 10 and went 1-2-0 with a 3.10 goals-against average and a .886 save percentage. The Sabres recalled Hackett on Monday after Michal Neuvirth sustained a lower-body injury while working out during the All-Star Break.
Perhaps the biggest mental obstacle he had to get over was that of facing Miller.
“Honestly, I’ve been looking up to Millsy since I was a kid,” Hackett said. “I thought he’s one of the best goalies I’ve ever seen so I was pretty nervous to face him.”
He said afterwards that the adrenaline was pumping so he really didn’t think too much about how his knee felt. While he would’ve liked to have made a few more saves to put the team in a better position to win, just being back on the ice during a game was its own victory.
“I’m very happy with the work I’ve done,” he said. “I think I’ve worked pretty hard and the training staff here’s done a great job. I’m just thankful to be back.”
Hackett had a strong first period for Buffalo and came up big early when he moved across the crease on one particular occasion to get a blocker on a shot by Shawn Matthias early in the first that could have easily found the back of the net. He stopped 10 of 11 shots of the first with the only blemish coming with 23.1 seconds remaining in the period.
After a scramble in front, Horvat knocked in his own rebound to tie the game.
“I really liked Matty tonight. I thought he gave us a chance. He was competitive. He played the puck. I really liked his game,” Nolan said. “…Even the games he played for us last year, I thought he played much better this year.”
Stewart now has four goals and two assists in his past five games. All four goals have come with the man advantage. Buffalo’s first unit against Vancouver consisted of Stewart, Zemgus Girgensons, Tyler Ennis and Tyler Myers and Nikita Zadorov at the points.
“It’s just simplicity,” Stewart said. “We’ve been doing some video and trying to get one step ahead and knowing our outlets. It’s just getting the pucks to the net and scoring the greasy ones.”
He capitalized on the power play by being a big presence in net. A shot by Ennis went off of Miller’s pad and onto Stewart’s stick. A Stewart took two shots with the second one hitting the back of the net 4:00 in.
The Sabres have scored five power-play goals in their past five games. Stewart has four of them, three of which have come as a result of him setting up at the top of the crease.
His second goal on Friday was a centering pass to the front of the net that went off the leg of Canucks defenseman Dan Hamhuis and in. That goal made it 3-2 with 5:44 remaining in the second.
‘WE NEED BETTER’
Cody Hodgson was a healthy scratch for Buffalo. Hodgson played parts of two seasons in Vancouver before being traded to Buffalo during the 2011-12 season.
He has two goals and seven assists in 48 games this season.
“We need better,” Nolan said. “Cody’s been like that the vast majority of the year. He’s had a couple spurts here and there but not enough for a player of his caliber.”
The Sabres also scratched Tyson Strachan and skated seven defensemen.
A FLIGHT BACK EAST
The Sabres will conclude their four-game road trip in Montreal at 7:30 p.m. on Tuesday. Then they’ll open up a five-game homestand starting Thursday night against the St. Louis Blues.
“It’s the second half of the season right now. Teams are battling for playoffs and positioning and stuff like that. Every point counts,” Stewart said. “They’re going to try to stick it to us and we’ve got to be ready and ready to respond.”