PHILADELPHIA — Interim coach Ted Nolan has only been watching a week. Buffalo Sabres fans have been watching for 24 games. He gets it now.
Turnovers. Missed coverages. Dipsy-do passes. Bad penalties. This is not his kind of hockey. At all.
“By doing stupid things like we have been, it’s not going to work,” a steamed Nolan said after a 4-1 loss to the Philadelphia Flyers on Thursday in Wells Fargo Center. “It’s going to be ugly games like this all night. So the gloves are officially off. You’ve got to do certain things to play. If you don’t, you’re not.”
Night after night, from sea to shining sea, the Sabres have made the same mistakes. What’s the old Einstein definition of insanity?
“When you constantly do the same thing over and over and over again and lose for the same reasons, it doesn’t take a rocket scientist to figure it out,” Nolan said. “We have to do simple things. We have to play a grind-out kind of game. We can’t have turnovers. We can’t take the foolish penalties. We can’t get bounced off the puck and outmuscled in corners.”
The Sabres lost their third straight and are 1-3 under Nolan. They also continue to sit last overall in the NHL at 5-18-1. Meanwhile, the Flyers improved to 6-1-2 in their last nine games as they continue to bounce back from a 1-7 start.
The Sabres expended plenty of energy and effort and had a 1-0 lead through 34 minutes. But too much of their energy was spent killing penalties and it eventually took its toll.
Matt Read scored two goals in a span of 1 minute, 40 seconds late in the second period to give the Flyers the lead for keeps. Vincent Lecavalier’s power-play rocket at 9:58 of the third created breathing room and Scott Hartnell found the empty net with 11 seconds left to drop Buffalo deeper into last place overall.
The Flyers had a 46-30 advantage in shots on goal and had 34 of them in the final two periods, peppering Ryan Miller on seven power plays that included a pair of five-on-three situations. Only Lecavalier scored with the man advantage, but the momentum shifted because of all the puck possession the Flyers built.
“You play a game like we did tonight, you’re going to have to take penalties because we had turnovers,” said defenseman Henrik Tallinder, a key to killing the two-man disadvantages. “Play a consistent game for 60 minutes. Simple hockey. North-South. No East-West. That creates turnovers.”
Nolan wasn’t naming names but it was clear who he was frustrated with.
Tyler Myers took a pair of penalties and Ville Leino was nailed with another offensive zone call, for slashing. Cody McCormick got a delay of game call for flipping a puck over the glass and the Sabres really pulled off an embarrassment when they were called for too many men on the ice while killing Myers’ tripping penalty early in the second period.
“Penalties are going to stop or the people doing it aren’t going to be in the lineup. It’s as simple as that,” Nolan said. “You can’t hope anymore. We’ve seen enough.”
“We just made some mistakes on the penalty side and that started tilting it a bit,” Miller said. “Lines get jumbled, guys get tired, you start mixing it and they kept the puck in our zone quite a bit that second period.
“If you don’t have the puck, you’re going to get called. That’s usually how it works.”
The Sabres led after 20 minutes for the first time all season as Myers’ power-play goal with 1:32 left, a jam from the edge of the crease, gave them a 1-0 lead. But they’re now 0-16 when trailing after two periods.
“We have to get a certain mind-set here,” Nolan said. “We get to the line, we have to make an intelligent play. We can’t turn it over. We had I don’t know how many turnovers, how many bad decisions.”
And Nolan’s message was clearly at the veterans. Steve Ott, Christian Ehrhoff, Cody Hodgson, Drew Stafford and Matt Moulson were all minus-2.
Ott has three goals all season, Stafford has two. Moulson has none in his last 10 games.
Nolan made several more tweaks in a Buffalo lineup already without departed rookies Johan Larsson, Rasmus Ristolainen and Nikita Zadorov. Scratched were Mark Pysyk, Corey Tropp and Brian Flynn. In their place, Nolan liked the looks of Luke Adam, Brayden McNabb and Mikhail Grigorenko, who the coach said talked his way into the lineup after the NHL nixed his conditioning assignment to Rochester.
“Everybody is telling me the young guys are the problem,” Nolan said. “The young guys ain’t here anymore so we don’t have that excuse anymore. We have to look ourselves in the mirror and we have to bring what each and everybody has on this team to bring.”