VANCOUVER -- The Sabres were in a 3-1 hole and things were getting worse Monday night. So during a second period timeout, Ryan O’Reilly gathered the troops near the bench. The coaches seemed to lie back, letting Buffalo’s most consistent player all season have the floor.
O’Reilly’s words may not have had immediate impact in an eventual 5-2 loss to the Vancouver Canucks in Rogers Arena. But the Sabres hope they can be a starting point to quickly reverse their fortunes after back-to-back clunkers on their Western road trip.
“Just take a deep breath and get back to being there for each other,” O’Reilly said when asked what his message was. “You could tell to a man we were so frustrated and didn’t know what to do. We needed to change something. I felt we came out in the third period with the right mentality and started to get some momentum. Penalties did kill us tonight. We have to improve all over.”
Sometimes, coach Dan Bylsma said, you have to let your players try to figure out some things on their own. And letting O’Reilly speak his mind was a good start.
“That’s what was happening. Yes,” said a nodding Bylsma. “It has showed from day” with O’Reilly “now it’s showing with a little more vocal aspect to it.”
Just as they did Sunday in Edmonton, Sabres opened the scoring but still headed into the first intermission trailing. They got beat in this one as Radim Vrbata notched his first hat trick since joining the Canucks two years ago and Ryan Miller made 32 saves against his old team.
The Sabres took six penalties in the game, and never seemed to find momentum again after a too many men on the ice call at 11:42 of the first period blunted what had been a good start.
“I think we’re learning about everything,” O’Reilly said. “The team last year had a losing mentality and we’re still trying to find that constant thing, having no casual moments. Teams that consistently make playoffs, there’s never casual moments. They’re on every night. We have to find that. These last two games weren’t consistent enough. It’s a big lesson that if we want to have success, we have to have that going forward.”
“It’s about how we’re playing, how we’re managing the puck,” said Brian Gionta, who opened the scoring with his third goal of the season. “There’s too many turnovers, lack of assignments done in the ‘D’ zone. We’re not coming out clean, not supporting
each other in the D zone. We got the lead, sure, but this was mostly about how we played.”
The Sabres had tough moments all around in this one. The fourth line of David Legwand, Marcus Foligno and Nicolas Deslauriers was burned for a pair of first-period goals and took the too many men penalty that stole away their momentum.
“We have to find ways not to shoot ourselves in the foot,” Gionta said. “Right now we’re doing that.”
While Buffalo ended the game with a 34-31 edge in shots, there were major stretches where the Canucks were in complete control of the puck. Especially on their power play.
“They not so much scored on it,” Bylsma said of the power play, which saw Vancouver go 1 of 6. “But they got momentum and carried the play because of it.”
“It was pretty similar to what happened against Edmonton,” said Sam Reinhart, a Vancouver native who scored Buffalo’s second goal in his first game in his hometown. “We came out and got the first goal, which we haven’t been doing for a while, and then we just backed off.”
It’s not how this trip was supposed to go.
“It’s really tough, really disappointing,” Gionta said. “We want better within this room and we know we’re capable of that. That’s why it’s so disappointing.”