Every once in a while, the Buffalo Sabres surge and make people ask, "Why is that team so low in the Eastern Conference?" Then there are nights like Friday, when they show exactly why.
The Sabres slept for the opening 10:30 against the New York Islanders, played the final 49:30 without their angry franchise goaltender and lost, 5-2, as their fans filled HSBC Arena with boos. It was a quick end to the Sabres' two-game winning streak, which saw them beat Northeast Division leaders Boston and Montreal.
The Sabres haven't won three games in a row this season. With only two games left until the All-Star break, they won't do it until at least February. If they play like they did Friday, they won't do it at all.
The Islanders had a 2-0 lead before the Sabres even showed a pulse. Michael Grabner scored with 7:26 gone and Matt Moulson doubled the advantage with 10:30 off the clock. Moulson's goal gave the Isles a 10-3 shot edge, and Lindy Ruff decided it was time to put goalie Ryan Miller out of his misery. The coach tapped Patrick Lalime, giving the backup his first ice time since Dec. 17 in Florida and his first action at home since Nov. 20 against Tampa Bay.
"I definitely didn't like the start of the game," Ruff said. "It wasn't about goaltending. The first two goals had nothing to do with Millsie, not one thing to do with him. Both were redirections. Based on as flat as we came out in the game, I thought it would be a good time to get Patty some time."
It was the quickest Miller has ever been pulled in front of the locals. He spent most of the night slumped at the end of the Buffalo bench wearing a winter cap. He repeatedly fidgeted with his glove while watching his teammates on the scoreboard screen. He made his 24th straight start, and it was obvious he's not accustomed to idle time during games.
His teammates certainly do sit idle during games, which is a prime reason they are tied for 11th place in the East.
"More attention to detail. It all comes around to the same thing. It's the reason we've had trouble," said Miller, who was furious the media wanted to talk with him and left during his first answer after the MSG cameraman talked over him.
The goalie change had the desired effect of getting the Sabres' feet moving, but it failed to key a comeback. The Islanders' goaltending tandem of Nathan Lawson, who left because of a knee injury, and Kevin Poulin kept New York in front and allowed it to beat the Sabres for the second time this week. They play again Sunday on Long Island.
"That's four points we've let go against these guys that hopefully don't come back to bite us in the rear," Sabres right wing Mike Grier said.
Grabner scored the first off the skate of troubled defenseman Tyler Myers. The Isles' forward tossed the puck to the front from behind the Buffalo net, and it ricocheted off Myers and went through Miller's pads.
Myers was looking for a bounceback game after getting benched for long stretches and playing a season-low 11:56 of Thursday's 4-2 win in Boston. That wasn't the bounce he desired.
The second goal came off a New York faceoff win. Moulson, standing in the slot, tipped a point blast. Miller was soon seen storming down the hallway.
"Our biggest concern is figuring out what we have to do to win and figure out what to do to keep our work ethic and compete level up," Sabres forward Nathan Gerbe said. "You can't play the way we did in the first and expect to win a game."
Jack Hillen gave the Isles a 4-0 lead with 5:27 remaining and most of the 18,690 already gone. The fans who stayed witnessed Gerbe make Sabres history.
He scored twice in five seconds for the fastest two goals by one player, topping the 10-second mark set by Derek Roy. Gerbe was one second away from tying the NHL record, owned by Nels Stewart (Montreal Maroons, 1931) and Deron Quint (Winnipeg Jets, 1995).
Gerbe scored on a backhand after slipping past Hillen with 3:22 to go. He went top shelf again after a pass from Grier.
"You want to be angry when you're losing, 4-0," Gerbe said. "It's embarrassing for sure. You just want to keep going out and competing and working hard, and that's what I tried to do there."
Islanders 5, Sabres 2
Slap shots: Sabres' two-game winning streak comes to a sudden, crashing halt. Miller pulled after two goals in 10:30 with Sabres in 10-3 shot hole. Gerbe scores twice in five seconds in third period.
Fast fact: Nathan Gerbe set a Sabres record for fastest goals by one player with two tallies in five seconds.
Next: New York Islanders, 3 p.m. Sunday in Nassau Coliseum.