RALEIGH, NC – The Buffalo Sabres are in a slump and they know they’ll have to pull together if they’re going to find their way out of it.
After winning 10 of 13 games, the Sabres have gone 1-9-1 in their past 11 games and have lost six straight.
A 5-2 loss Thursday to the Carolina Hurricanes at PNC Arena prompted a 10-minute closed door meeting between the players and coaches after the final horn sounded.
“During our run there, it was the best I’ve seen our group in a long time respond after a goal against. It’s starting to turn the other way again,” defenseman Tyler Myers said. “We’re starting to get back in our old habit of when we get scored on, you see some heads go down and the team gets a little down – at least that’s the body language we give off.
“We have to be a team that plays the same way no matter what. Goal against, goal for, down five, up five – we play the same way. It starts with the little things. It starts with details and we’ve got to fix that.”
Philip Varone scored Buffalo’s only two goals for the first multi-goal game of his career, but three quick strikes by the Hurricanes in the second period are what did the Sabres in.
Carolina scored four goals – three in a span of 1:19 – in the second period to take a 4-1 lead and really put the game out of reach.
Through the first three games of their current four-game road trip, the Sabres have been outscored 15-4. They’ve allowed two four-goal periods and a three-goal period on the trip that ends Friday night in Tampa Bay.
“Obviously we’re not happy with the way we’ve been playing lately and I think we need to hold each other more accountable,” goaltender Jhonas Enroth, who made 26 saves, said.
Sabres coach Ted Nolan said he addressed the team after the game and made it clear that they can’t hang their heads because no opponent is going to feel sorry for them if they make a mistake.
“It’s different mistakes by different people every time,” he said. “We’ve got to be mentally sharp. We talked about it before the game. We’ve got to be alert. We’ve got to make sure we’re intense. We’ve got to play with some urgency. That didn’t happen and when that doesn’t happen, you take bad penalties and the game’s over.”
The Hurricanes opened the scoring 4:52 into the second on Jeff Skinner’s goal and the Sabres quickly tied it with a goal by Varone 59 seconds later. However, with 6:10 remaining, the floodgates opened and Carolina went on their run.
While Nicolas Deslauriers was already in the box for holding, Tyson Strachan was called for cross-checking with 7:20 remaining in the period. That set up a 5-on-3 Carolina power play for 1:12.
With two seconds remaining on the two-man advantage, Jiri Tlusty put home a pass from Nathan Gerbe to give the Hurricanes the lead. Eric Staal was then credited with a goal that went off the skate of Sabres defenseman Mike Weber 53 seconds later to make it 3-1 a few seconds after the penalty to Strachan expired.
Victor Rask tipped a shot past Jhonas Enroth with 4:51 remaining in the second to put Carolina up by three.
Varone then tipped home a shot from the point by Strachan for his second of the night 8:17 into the third. The shot was headed wide and Hurricanes goaltender Cam Ward motioned as if the puck was going to head high into the corner. However, Varone, standing to Ward’s left, batted it down and through his legs.
However, the Hurricanes got it right back when Riley Nash scored with 9:50 left to put Carolina ahead 5-2.
GETTING HIS FILL
Varone’s goals were his first and second of the season. He was recalled by the Sabres on Sunday and had a few quality scoring chances against the New Jersey Devils in his first game on Tuesday. Being able to bear down on Thursday was a bit of a relief for him.
“Last game, not converting on those chances where I could’ve almost tied the game single-handedly, and then tonight getting them – it’s a step in the right direction,” he said. “But we need to start winning games. That’s most important.”
Varone leads the Rochester Americans of the American Hockey League in scoring with 29 points (8+21) in 35 games this season. He was named to the AHL All-Star Game this week.
He has three goals and an assist in 11 career NHL games and three points (2+1) in two games against Carolina.
While Nolan was happy to see Varone put the puck in the net Thursday night, he knows that his veterans need to get on the scoresheet as well. He hinted at the possibility of breaking up the team’s top line of center Zemgus Girgensons and wings Matt Moulson and Tyler Ennis.
“Varone seemed to have a little bit of confidence in his stride tonight and he got the results to show for it. But we need to make sure we just get mentally tough,” Nolan said. “He played a strong game for us, but you shouldn’t rely on call-ups to get your goals for you. We need some production.”
The Sabres were without Drew Stafford, their second-leading scorer, who could not make the trip from Buffalo due to inclement weather. He left before Tuesday's game to celebrate the birth of his first son and planned to be back for the game against Carolina. Nolan said Stafford's status for Friday night will depend on weather conditions.