Don't let the score fool you. The Buffalo Sabres' two-goal loss to the New York Islanders really wasn't that close. If the Isles were better at burying the glorious chances presented to them by the Sabres, Buffalo might've trudged home from Long Island with double digits in the goals-against column.
The defense was that bad.
The feel-good vibe of the Sabres' recent 5-1-1 run came to a net-bursting halt Saturday night, as the Islanders pummeled goaltender Ryan Miller from close range en route to a 5-3 victory. Miller's head was spinning throughout the second period as the Isles scored four times, including a natural hat trick by John Tavares in a span of just 5:46.
"We don't have room for this kind of stuff," Miller said. "We've got to wake up."
The Sabres had been proud of their team defense during the hot streak. There was little to be proud of in Nassau Coliseum as the Sabres left the Islanders open in every part of the defensive zone, particularly right near the overworked Miller.
"The second period was a disaster defensively," coach Lindy Ruff said. "There's no explanation for that. There's none. The team defense has been good. You wonder where that came from."
The Sabres actually kick-started the goal-filled second just 17 seconds in, with Thomas Vanek capitalizing on a five-on-three that started late in the first.
From there, Miller was alone on an island. Obviously, that's a place where the Isles feel comfortable. Tavares scored three straight and Blake Comeau added another goal as New York surged to a 4-1 lead.
"That was one of the worst periods of the year for us, by far," defenseman Tyler Myers said. "It's just an embarrassing effort."
Tavares, who had several chances in the first period, finally celebrated with 12:10 left in the second after being left alone in the slot. He pumped his fist in a sigh of relief. A couple of more fists ended up knocking out the Sabres.
He gave New York a 2-1 lead on the power play with 9:26 to go. He tipped Matt Moulson's pass off Miller's pads from the top of the crease, then easily backhanded the rebound into the net.
The hats came flying from the crowd of 12,223 just three minutes later as the Isles again had the Sabres flustered in their defensive zone. Seconds after Miller got in the way of Tavares' point-blank backhand, PA Parenteau tipped a blue-line blast by Andrew MacDonald off the post and off Miller's back. Tavares cleaned up the mess, creating one for the Sabres and another for the Coliseum hat cleaners.
"Their No. 1 guy took advantage of what we gave him, and that's just chances around the net," Buffalo defenseman Steve Montador said.
New York's Michael Grabner missed a wide-open net with 5:50 left, but Comeau made sure to increase the lead to 4-1 soon after. Miller's anger was evident at the end of the period when he skated swiftly toward center ice. The energy burst was impressive considering he faced 33 shots in just 40 minutes, including 18 attempts in the second period.
"We were lackadaisical," left wing Thomas Vanek said. "We just didn't skate. We were puck watching, let them fly around us."
The first period was scoreless, but only because Miller was a wall when the Islanders actually shot straight. New York took 15 shots in the period, and they were hardly perimeter attempts. The Islanders' best chance belonged to Tavares and Parenteau, who had a two-on-zero that started at the Buffalo blue line.
"We hung Millsie out to dry," Myers said. "He did all he could, and we didn't help him out any."
Tyler Ennis and Jochen Hecht scored in the third period, but Michael Grabner helped add injury to insult with 3:08 left. He scored top shelf, then watched as Buffalo's Luke Adam barreled into Miller. The goaltender stayed down until athletic trainer Tim Macre arrived but stayed in the game and finished with 32 saves.
Said Montador: "It was just an inconsistent night with a large lapse of not getting it done."
>Islanders 5, Sabres 3
Slap shots: Sabres' good vibe of 5-1-1 run comes to swift, crashing halt. … Tavares scores three goals in just 5:46 to give Isles a 3-1 lead. … Miller faces 33 shots through two periods, including 18 in the second.
Fast fact: Sabres defenseman Andrej Sekera played in his 200th career game.
Next game: Montreal Canadiens, 7:30 p.m. Tuesday in HSBC Arena.