OTTAWA — It’s time to get out of dodge.
Buffalo has reached the Olympic break, and that’s fine for the players and their fans. The Sabres allowed the winning goal with 22.1 seconds left Thursday night to drop a 3-2 decision in Ottawa. The Sabres have losses in 11 of the last 13 games (2-8-3), so a break sounds like an awfully good idea.
“Right now’s a good time to have a mental break, especially the way the season’s going,” Sabres coach Ted Nolan said in Canadian Tire Centre.
Buffalo scored twice in the third period to force a 2-2 tie, but Milan Michalek scored his second rush goal of the night as defenders backed away.
“It’s really disappointing that we lost that one,” center Tyler Ennis said. “It’d be nice to have gone into the break with a win, but now it’s time for the guys who aren’t going to the Olympics to rest up. We’ll turn this thing around after the break.”
Buffalo’s next game is the rescheduled contest against Carolina, which will be held Feb. 25 in First Niagara Center. Players will scatter for vacations over the next two weeks, and the time off should let at least some of the pain fade from a forgettable season.
“Guys are pretty frustrated and mentally pretty beaten up,” left wing Ville Leino said. “We probably need that and try to charge batteries here and finish the season.”
The Senators’ Erik Karlsson scored the only goal of the opening two periods. It took just 10 seconds of the third period for the Sens to make it 2-0. Mika Zibanejad bounced a long pass to Jason Spezza, who picked it up behind the Buffalo defense after it hit a linesman. Spezza fed Michalek for a tap-in.
The struggling Sabres could have run for the bus, but Ennis cut the deficit to 2-1 with 9:35 to play. Linemate Drew Stafford tied the game with 4:14 left by scoring for the third straight game.
“It was a really good third period for us,” said Jhonas Enroth, who made 33 saves. “Unfortunately, it wasn’t enough.”
Nolan has grown impatient with left wing Marcus Foligno. He scratched the 22-year-old, who was held without a point in four straight games and has just one goal and two assists in his past 19.
“He’s a young player,” Nolan said. “He has to learn to play on a consistent basis. You can’t do it sometimes. He’s got to learn to do it all the time, and the only way you’re going to try to get a message to him, the only thing we have now, is ice time.”
Linus Omark also returned to the press box after two unproductive appearances. Zenon Konopka and Leino took their spots. Leino, scratched in the previous two, played on the top line with Ennis and Stafford. He had an assist in 19:10 of ice time but was on the ice for the winning goal.
Not surprisingly, Nolan broke up the defense pair of Mike Weber and Jamie McBain. The duo was a combined minus-7 in the previous three games. McBain skated alongside Henrik Tallinder, while Weber shared the blue line with Chad Ruhwedel. Still, Weber and McBain ended up together for the winning goal.
Ruhwedel is expected to return to the Rochester Americans along with forward Phil Varone during the break. The Amerks play Saturday in First Niagara Center.
The decision to leave Ottawa’s Bobby Ryan off the U.S. Olympic team became a huge story. The high-scoring forward was disappointed in both the snub and the circumstances around it, so not surprisingly he won’t be glued to the games while out of town. “I don’t know how much coverage there’ll be where I’m going,” Ryan said. “I probably won’t sit down and watch games - it’s vacation - but I’ll certainly check in and see how my friends are doing.”