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Close not good enough for frustrated Sabres in loss to Ducks

ANAHEIM -- Little things added up to a disappointing big picture for the Buffalo Sabres here Wednesday night.

The Anaheim Ducks are a brutish club filled with skilled players and are hotter than any team in the NHL right now as they push for a Pacific Division title.

The Sabres are in building mode, trying to find their way with a cadre of young talent but without injured All-Star center Ryan O'Reilly. And their offense simply has not been nearly what was expected.

Such as was the case again in Honda Center, as Buffalo endured a 1-0 loss to the Ducks on the opening game of its West Coast trip. Sami Vatanen's power-play goal in the second period was the only tally of the game while the Sabres went 0 for 4 on their man-advantage chances and Anaheim goaltender Frederik Andersen made 26 saves for his first shutout of the season.

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"I'm not going to be satisfied with being stride for stride with a good hockey team," said coach Dan Bylsma. "We had every opportunity to get a few goals and win the hockey game and we come up short."

It's not a new issue. The Sabres are tied for 28th in the NHL in goals per game at 2.34 while ranking 29th in shooting percentage, both overall (7.8 percent) and in 5-on-5 play (6.2 percent).

When you're talking 61 games into a season, you have to throw the bad-luck theory out the window. That's a pattern. And not creating enough traffic in front of the net is a big reason why.

Captain Brian Gionta was the most frustrated Sabre, as he failed to score despite a game-high seven shots on goal. At least three of Gionta's shots were golden opportunities from in front and he barely missed to corral a loose puck after Marcus Foligno broke in on goal midway through the third period.

"It's a tough one for sure," Gionta said. "A couple you'd like to have back but we have to find ways. We played a fairly good game. A power play goal by them with great chances for us and didn't capitalize. I felt good. I've been feeling good but you have to have production."

Without O'Reilly, rookie Jack Eichel played 20:04 in the game but struggled while often matched against Ducks veteran Ryan Kesler. Eichel had just two shots on goal in the game, neither of the dangerous variety, and was only 3-13 on faceoffs.

The Ducks' goal came after some nice passing from Ryan Getzlaf and Hampus Lindholm. Vatanen's wrist shot got by Marcus Foligno and threaded its way through four other players in front of Robin Lehner. It was the kind of traffic the Sabres never created in front of Andersen.

"We have to get a little tougher in front of both nets," Lehner said. "They got in front of me a lot today and we didn't get in front of him a lot. It's something we have to focus on, making it harder for the other goalies. He made a few good saves but he saw every puck today."

"They're an explosive team and for the most part our penalty kill did a great job against a top power play," Gionta said. "They got a wrister that just finds its way in and it's frustrating because we're right there."

The Sabres had a few good chances, notably the Foligno rush and a 3-on-1 in the second period where Andersen stopped Evander Kane and got his left pad on Justin Bailey's rebound. In the final second of play, Rasmus Ristolainen's shot from the right point whizzed wide of the post. In the end, Buffalo never dented Andersen.

"That's where we did come up short," Bylsma said. "I don't think we got enough bodies in front of Andersen, not enough pucks to get that opportunity. I don't know if we were going to get a clean look and have it beat him tonight."

The Sabres' power play was mostly meek and it didn't get a shot on goal on a big chance to tie the game after Andrew Cogliano went off for interference with 5:37 to play.

"We have good puck movement but we need more people in front," Lehner said. "As soon as we read off each other that the shot is coming, we've got to attack. It's a skill of getting there, a skill of getting in the goalie's face and a skill of reading off each other. It's something we've got to work on."

email: mharrington@buffnews.com

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