Allowing 16 goals in three games, which the Sabres have done, is bad enough. The speed at which opponents are connecting has made things more alarming.
Buffalo has shown a tendency to absorb two punches rather than one during its recent defensive slide. Florida scored twice in spans of 47 seconds and 3:05 during a 7-4 victory. Philadelphia notched two goals in 48 seconds in a 5-1 win. Montreal struck twice in 2:01 during Buffalo’s 6-4 victory Friday night.
The Sabres hope to end the trend Sunday when they host Colorado at 12:45 p.m. in First Niagara Center.
“When we start letting in some goals, we’ve got to take a few breathers,” goaltender Robin Lehner said Saturday. “Just chip it in and try to just stay out of our zone for a little bit, go grind it out for a few shifts to calm down. We’re trying to find ways.”
Lehner, who will get the start against the Avalanche, says blame for the opponents’ easy access to the net falls everywhere. Forwards need to cover the slot better. Defensemen can tighten their gaps. The goalies can stop more shots.
“We’ve got to take care of the puck better in the neutral zone, limit the odd-man rushes a little bit,” Lehner said. “Everyone needs to step up a little bit.
“Some good teams are getting to us. On any given night, you start giving away good chances, letting them come in close and giving them time, it’s going to be those days when they pick you apart. We’ve just got to play a little tighter with a little more urgency, play with a little more emotion, a little more aggressive. I think we can get back on track there.”
Lehner is eager to get back on track after starting the losses to Florida and Philadelphia. He entered the crease against the Panthers with a .939 save percentage and 2.12 goals-against average. His stats have plummeted to .915 and 2.95 after allowing nine goals on 40 shots and getting yanked 21 minutes into the Florida game.
“It’s just been a stretch of some high-quality stuff coming at you,” Lehner said. “We’ve got to step up to make some saves. It’s been a tough little stretch.
“The game against Florida, I was there and I was on pretty much every goal. I go through it on video with my goalie coach, and I wouldn’t do anything different. It’s just good goals going in. There’s a lot of stuff in front. I tried to bounce back in Philly, felt good the first period, and the wheels just fell off again. We couldn’t really bounce back from it.”
Zemgus Girgensons will be back in the Sabres’ lineup after a three-game injury absence. Coach Dan Bylsma would prefer to send Girgensons back to his spot as the left winger for Jack Eichel, but the lingering injury to center Johan Larsson will prevent that.
“With our situation, he’ll probably play in the middle,” Bylsma said of Girgensons, who practiced fully Saturday.
“I feel ready to go,” said Girgensons, who has missed 11 games this season. “It’s just been bad breaks. It’s been mostly me being a little too reckless. It’s just how it goes. I’ve just got to keep playing the way I’ve been playing. That stuff happens. You’ll have ups and downs with injuries.”
To make room for Girgensons, the Sabres sent forward Phil Varone back to Rochester. Bylsma hopes Larsson, who will miss his fourth game, can return to practice Monday. He skated on his own in First Niagara Center. Concussed forward Tyler Ennis stayed off the ice.
“Not a skate day for him,” Bylsma said. “He did work out off the ice. He’s progressing and doing better but not ready to go to a full-scale workout.”
Ryan O’Reilly hasn’t been able to score, but he’s certainly helping others do it. O’Reilly, who has no goals in 15 games, has 12 assists during the span. He picked up two assists Friday, giving him seven in the last six games.
“Not scoring a goal is not the biggest issue,” Bylsma said. “It’s being able to create offense, create those circumstances for yourself and your line.
“He’s creating offense, creating in and around the net for him and his linemates. Not going in for him right now with his shot, but he’s still creating at the level he was earlier in the year.”
O’Reilly leads the Sabres with 17 goals, 30 assists and 47 points in 56 games.
The Sabres will again scratch two healthy defensemen. Mike Weber and Mark Pysyk sat Friday.
“I didn’t like our game in the last two games defensively, and that would be inclusively of a lot of people,” Bylsma said. “Just the opportunities and the situations we’re giving up in the game, Mark was a part of. We’re going to have that accountability in our game, and Mark was the guy that was coming out.”
The Make Lemon Aide Foundation for Cerebral Palsy will be in the arena Sunday to raise funds and increase awareness about the disorder. There will be a lemonade stand in the 100 Level where fans can purchase drinks and enter to win a jersey autographed by Zach Bogosian, who filmed a public-service announcement for the organization. The Sabres will host 16 families affected by cerebral palsy in the arena suites.