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Dark period dooms Sabres

ST. PAUL, Minn. — Ted Nolan didn’t visit the Buffalo Sabres’ dressing room after the second period Thursday night. Seriously, what was he supposed to say?

The Sabres’ interim coach was flat-out disgusted by what he had just seen. In his mind, this was a time for his players to figure out some things on their own.

“Sometimes if you have got nothing good to say, it’s better to say nothing at all,” Nolan explained after Buffalo’s sleep-inducing, 4-1 loss to the Minnesota Wild.

“They know how bad they played. Sometimes you might say something you’ll regret. I’m very disappointed. We have to play a lot better.”

After a sedate and scoreless first period, the Sabres were burned in a three-goal Minnesota second and that was that. Only a Matt Ellis goal with 1:12 left in the third prevented the Sabres from enduring back-to-back shutouts for the first time since 2003.

An XCel Energy Center crowd of 18,229 saw the kind of snoozer the Sabres played often when Ron Rolston was behind the bench.

Said Nolan: “When we’re bad, we’re bad.”

Sure are. No puck possession, no power play, no passion. And no results. The Sabres clearly understood why Nolan didn’t bother with them after a second period that saw the Wild outshoot them, 15-5. The count for the game was 31-20.

“He doesn’t put the sweater on,” captain Steve Ott said of Nolan. “You hope that guys collectively jump in the battle together.”

“It really is up to us,” said Ryan Miller, who gave up a rare soft goal to former Buffalo captain Jason Pominville. “A coach can only say so much.”

The Sabres, who have been plucky and hard-nosed at home, shouldn’t even bother getting on the charters to hit the road. They’re 0-9-2 in their last 11 away from First Niagara Center and have yet to win a roadie under Nolan (0-7-2).

This trip, a two-game jaunt to frigid Winnipeg and the Twin Cities, featured an offense as cold as the weather that rarely saw the temperature get over zero. And remember, it was preceded by a home shootout win over Washington that saw the Caps outshoot Buffalo, 50-17.

“The last three games we’ve had very little puck possession time in the zone,” said Ott. “We were very hesitant. That hesitation is creeping back into our game like we saw the first few weeks of the season.”

Matt Moulson and Zemgus Girgensons were both minus-3 Thursday. Ott, Tyler Ennis, Christian Ehrhoff and Mark Pysyk were all minus-2. Alex Sulzer made a terrible decision that led to a 2-on-1 and the Wild’s third goal.

Already without five injured players, the Sabres also lost yet another body as winger Drew Stafford left for good in the first period with an upper-body injury after a collision with Minnesota’s Matt Cooke. Nolan was unsure of Stafford’s status but said it’s not going to be day to day.

“It’s tough without a guy like a Cody Hodgson and then you lose Staff but other guys have to step up,” Ott said. “You get a chance to play in this league and you have to take it.”

The Sabres have been outscored, 21-9, in the second period since Nolan took over. He fixed their problem with terrible starts under Rolston but now a new issue has cropped up.

“I think teams see what we have to offer, make adjustments and we don’t make any adjustments,” Miller said. “We have to be adaptable.”

The power play was 0 for 4 and did very little. It’s in a 3-for-47 rut the last 14 games and this was a game where two wasted man-advantage chances in the first period could have helped put a reeling Minnesota team on its heels. The Wild had lost six straight and coach Mike Yeo’s job was reportedly in jeopardy had the Sabres pulled off a win.

Marco Scandella, Pominville and Jason Zucker all burned Miller for goals in the second period. Kyle Brodziak was awarded an empty-net goal with 26 seconds left after he was pulled down by Christian Ehrhoff on a semi-breakaway.

The Wild recognized Miller, along with Minnesota players Ryan Suter and Zach Parise, for the Olympic selections during a first-period timeout.

email: mharrington@buffnews.com

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