The NHL can be an unforgiving place. Even when a team feels like it’s getting somewhere, the standings tell a different story.
It’s yet another hard lesson for the Sabres.
After helping Buffalo to another point last game, goaltender Robin Lehner looked to the bright side.
“We got a point on the road,” Lehner said after Tuesday’s 2-1 shootout loss in Ottawa. “We’re creeping up.”
Creeping is probably pushing it. Moving glacially is a little more like it.
The Sabres have been playing decent hockey since Jan. 10. They’re 7-6-3, which is their third-best 16-game stretch since the start of the 2013-14 season. It’s meant little.
The day before the run began, Buffalo was 12 points out of a playoff spot, in 15th in the Eastern Conference and 29th in the NHL. The Sabres woke up Wednesday 11 points out of a playoff spot, 14th in the conference and 27th in the NHL.
Since the Sabres won’t feel good any time they look at the standings, they’re trying to feel good when they look in the mirror. The Ottawa game helped.
“It was our best game in a long time,” said Lehner, who made 25 saves. “I think we deserved this win.”
Lehner had been pushing for better team defense, and he got it against his former club. The 26 shots allowed were the fewest in Lehner’s eight full games with Buffalo.
“We did a good job of limiting opportunities,” coach Dan Bylsma said. “Probably our best team defensive game in a long time.”
The Sabres blocked 22 shots, nine above their average. Defenseman Jake McCabe led the team with six, followed by Rasmus Ristolainen (five) and Marcus Foligno (three).
Buffalo got 39 shots through to Ottawa goalie Craig Anderson. Ristolainen led the Sabres with five.
“We could have won this game by 4-1, 5-1,” Lehner said. “We’re not happy that we lost, but we’ve got to take the good things out of this game.”
Justin Bailey has been held without a point during his four NHL games, but the Williamsville native continues to get shots. He took three against the Senators, bringing his career total to 15. Although it’s a small sample size, his average of 3.8 shots per game is second only to Evander Kane’s 4.2. Jack Eichel is third at 2.9.
Bailey could find himself fighting for playing time when the Sabres visit Columbus on Friday. If Kane’s punishment for missing practice is a one-game benching, the Sabres will have 13 forwards available.
Buffalo will return to practice Thursday after taking off Wednesday.
The Sabres’ power play had been in the top 10 most of the season, but the unit has hit a major slump. Buffalo has been blanked in six of the past seven games, going 2 for 23. The Sabres have dropped to 12th overall at 19.6 percent. They entered the Feb. 4 game against Boston ranked sixth at 21.2 percent.
Buffalo fans who are making the five-hour drive to Columbus will catch the final weekend of the Blue Jackets’ Winter Park. There is an NHL-sized rink and concert tent open to the public across from Nationwide Arena.
The Blue Jackets are 6-1-3 in their last 10 games after a 2-1 overtime loss to Boston on Tuesday. Since hiring coach John Tortorella following an 0-7 start, Columbus has gone 23-21-7.
The Blue Jackets have relied on rookie goaltender Joonas Korpisalo since losing Sergei Bobrovsky to a groin injury. Korpisalo has made 10 straight starts and put up a .935 save percentage during the span.
“Bob is our No. 1 goaltender,” Tortorella told Columbus reporters. “When he gets healthy, he’s going to be our guy.
“But what happens with Korpi? That’s a good problem to have. That’s in the future. Bob is just beginning to skate, so I’m not sure when that happens. But we’ll solve that when we get to it.”