There are going to be a lot of nights like Wednesday for the Buffalo Sabres. They hustled. They competed. Aside from a couple of late penalties, they didn’t make egregious errors.
They just weren’t good enough to win.
The Sabres played well enough to stay close and lose, dropping a 3-1 decision to Montreal. The crowd in First Niagara Center saw their Sabres fall for the fifth straight time in regulation, the longest skid without a point this year.
“I’m never happy after a loss, but I’m happy with the way we started competing,” coach Ted Nolan said. “This group is really starting to pay attention. We’re making strides in the right direction. We want to get better, and it showed.”
They still aren’t winning, though. The Sabres (5-20-1) got stuck on one goal for the fourth straight game, and they again took penalties at bad times.
Montreal held a 2-1 lead when Tyler Myers departed on a borderline boarding call with 8:43 to go. The Sabres killed it off, but the backbreaker soon followed. The referees whistled Tyler Ennis for interference with 2:58 left, and Brendan Gallagher scored on the power play to send the fans streaming toward the exits.
“All I was trying to do was go to my spot on the set breakout,” Ennis said. “Both wingers are supposed to loop. I had no intention of picking him – obviously not. The last thing I wanted to do was take a penalty with three minutes left. Very unfortunate. I feel terrible about it.”
Goaltender Ryan Miller was upset the Canadiens weren’t called for interference during a rush by the Sabres and begged for consistency. Still, he knows the Sabres have displayed a frustrating tendency to thwart themselves.
“We’re talking about penalties again,” Miller said. “Whether it’s a good penalty or bad penalty or the refs screwed up, we’re talking about it again. We can’t do it.”
The game showcased two probable Olympic goaltenders. Miller made 28 saves for the Sabres with Brian Burke, the USA Hockey player personnel director, in attendance. Team Canada hopeful Carey Price stopped 24 shots.
The only player to beat Price was Matt Moulson, who capitalized on a strong forecheck by Drew Stafford to end an 11-game scoring slump. Moulson hadn’t scored since his Buffalo debut Oct. 28.
“I want to help this team win,” Moulson said. “That’s the thing. Obviously, it wasn’t enough. We have to come back and be able to produce to help this team win.”
The Sabres’ streak of scoring first came to an end at three games as Montreal’s Alex Galchenyuk scored late in the opening period.
Despite the recent run of decent starts, the Sabres’ ugly first-period stats remain. Opponents have outscored the Sabres, 32-6, and outshot them, 342-185, during first periods this season.
The Canadiens doubled their lead midway through the second with their first power-play goal of the game by David Desharnais. The Habs’ backers, who made up about 30 percent of the crowd, rose to their feet. The 55 percent rooting for the Sabres slumped back in their seats. The other 15 percent of the building was empty seats as the team announced a crowd of 18,497.
“Teams have good power plays, and when they can step on your throat they do it,” Moulson said.
The Sabres will play their third of three straight home games Friday when Toronto comes to town. The teams split a home-and-away series earlier this month.
The Maple Leafs lost to Pittsburgh, 6-5, in a shootout Wednesday despite taking a 4-1 lead early in the second period. Penalties helped doom Toronto, too, and the Sabres hope the trend ends for Buffalo after the latest lesson.
“It hurt, especially late,” Miller said. “Even though it’s 2-1, you think you have a chance the last three, four minutes to try and tilt the ice with six guys and tie it up, get a point, get to overtime and play for another. It’s just frustrating.”
Matt D’Agostini, claimed off waivers from Pittsburgh during the afternoon, did not play.