Sabres Can’t Buy a Goal

After the game in the locker room, Jack Eichel sat in his stall, pads and skates still on, sweat still dripping down his neck. He stared straight ahead but his shoulders drooped. The Buffalo Sabres captain was ready and willing to answer questions from the media.

Instead, the microphones and cameras took turns, herding around Evan Rodrigues, Linus Ullmark, and Sam Reinhart. The disappointment, solemn tone and blank stares were common.

Sam Reinhart Buffalo Sabres
Sam Reinhart had a goal wiped off the scoreboard. (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

At this point, with the end of another playoff-less season almost mercifully over, there’s not much left to say. It was another loss. This time on the road, 3-1 to the New Jersey Devils. The Sabres outshot the Devils 46-21, a team that had lost 10 of its previous 13 games, but the scoreboard was the only thing that mattered.

Sabres Continue to Find Ways to Lose

The game was tied at one after two periods, courtesy of Blake Coleman’s power-play goal and Reinhart’s 23rd goal of the year.

Vladimir Sobotka’s second penalty of the game led to a go-ahead goal by Pavel Zacha in the third period. The Sabres appeared to have tied the game with Sam Reinhart banging home a rebound into a wide open net, but the goal was challenged but the Devils and overturned. Miles Wood’s shot into an empty net with 1:25 left in regulation sealed the deal for the Devils.

Devils goaltender Cory Schneider made 45 saves on 46 shots, the lone goal came from center ice off the stick of Sam Reinhart. The puck had eyes of its own, finding its way behind the veteran netminder.

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The Sabres have lost 10 of their last 11 and 16 of their last 19 games. They own the league’s third-worst road record (11-22-5). The only thing going well for them is their increasing odds of landing a top-three pick in the NHL Draft Lottery.

Sabres’ Losses Pile Up and Frustration Mounts

The frustration in the Sabres locker room was palpable. “It’s not a good feeling,” said Rodrigues. “We did things right. We played the right way. We didn’t give them much. We got pucks to the net. We basically did everything we wanted to except put the puck in the net. It’s the way it’s going these days.”

Sabres goaltender Linus Ullmark stopped 18 of 20 shots including some timely saves. Despite the loss, he tried to put it in perspective. “I don’t think it feels worse if you play a good game and you lose,” said Ullmark. “It definitely feels worse if you go out there and you don’t do what you’re supposed to do and you don’t play your game. [But] if you play your game and bring the best version of yourself and don’t get the results… you can live with that.”

Buffalo Sabres goalie Linus Ullmark
Sabres goalie Linus Ullmark made some timely saves. (AP Photo/Jeffrey T. Barnes)

He begrudgingly accepted the loss. “We outshot them. Outchanced them. They didn’t get a lot of grade-A scoring chances. It was how we were supposed to play. Keep it tight and try to capitalize on our chances forward,” said the Swede.

“Facing adversity is not always fun but it’s something that you can always learn from,” added Ullmark. “I’d rather face adversity and learn something from it then just go around, gliding my way through life.”

Defensive Pair Shines

With defensemen Zach Bogosian and Matt Hunwick unavailable due to injuries, Lawrence Pilut jumped into the lineup. He paired with Rasmus Ristolainen and the duo had a great game.

“I thought he played terrific,” said Housley. “Really good poise with the puck. Good first pass out of the zone. Joining the rush. Trying to do what he can to make a difference.”

Buffalo Sabres Lawrence Pilut
Sabres defenseman Lawrence Pilut had a strong game. (Sergei Belski-USA TODAY Sports)

Both players had eye-popping Corsi-For percentages. Pilut finished with 74.07%; Ristolainen with an 83.33%. Not to take anything away from them, but with such a lopsided shots-on-goal tally, every Sabres player finished above 52% for the night. The Sabres top line was dominant with the puck­–Eichel had a 76.19%, Conor Sheary 77.78 and Alex Nylander 81.25% Corsi-For rating.

No Moral Victories

The Sabres played a decent game, but it wasn’t good enough. “I thought we played the right way,” said Reinhart. “It doesn’t make it any less frustrating, that’s for sure.”

Housley, always one to pump his players tires, found positives everywhere. “I just thought we played the right way for 60 minutes. We had opportunities. We had chances. We just didn’t find the next goal,” said the Sabres bench boss.

Housley was fuming when Reinhart’s goal was taken off the board. “I didn’t agree with the goalie interference call. I totally disagree with the call,” said Housley. “I think he’s got his territory in front of the goaltender. We’re telling our guys to go to the front of the net. He does the right thing. Guy backs into him.”

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The Sabres hopped on a flight to Ottawa after the game. They face the last-place Senators Tuesday night. “We gotta continue to play this way. We’re going to get results if we continue to tighten it up,” said Housley.