TORONTO – As the season nears its end, the Sabres have talked about winning, finishing strong and building for the future. They spent more energy during those conversations than they did on the ice Saturday night.
Buffalo’s scrimmages during summer development camp had more intensity than the 4-1 loss to the Maple Leafs. The Sabres haven’t looked bad in many games this season, but they sure did against a Toronto team that fielded rookies and minor-league unknowns.
“They’re a team that’s young and trying to make spots,” Sabres forward Marcus Foligno said. “They’re going to keep working, and we just kind of shut it down.”
The Sabres don’t have the record, talent or credentials to shut it down. In case they had any doubts, the Maple Leafs nailed the point home.
“We took our foot off the gas, took our foot off the pedal with our mentality and our focus, and that’s the result,” coach Dan Bylsma said.
The listlessness started at the top and carried through the lineup. Evander Kane skated 22:50 yet didn’t record a shot, the first time he failed to test a goaltender all season. He was also minus-2.
He was hardly alone.
“We just didn’t have that jump that we needed to compete and be in the game,” said goaltender Chad Johnson, who suffered his first loss in six decisions. “They came out really strong. They’re a fast team and we were sort of on our heels most of the game. We just didn’t have that energy that we needed.
“It was one of those games.”
The Sabres took just three shots in the first period, yet they took a 1-0 lead into intermission on a goal by Brian Gionta.
“That was our one forecheck of the first period,” Bylsma said.
Johan Larsson dumped a Toronto player behind the net. Foligno got the puck below the goal line. Gionta scored from the right circle.
It was a solid blueprint for success, but the Sabres tossed out the plan.
“It was pretty embarrassing,” Foligno said. “We didn’t have any forecheck going. No one was pretty much hungry for the puck. It was a lot of just dumping into crappy areas where they could play it, get it out. It was neutral zone and our zone.
“We needed smarter and harder plays, and we didn’t get them.”
If the Sabres wanted to dig for excuses, they could find them. Jack Eichel was out with the flu. Buffalo was closing three games in four nights, including back-to-backs.
“It didn’t look like we had much energy, not that that’s an excuse,” Gionta said. “We’ve got to find a way to play when we’re feeling that way.”
The bright side is games like that have been a rarity. The downside is if the final nine games look anything like Saturday’s snoozer, it’s going to be a brutal close to the season.
“We could have said we got beat by a better team, but that’s not the case,” Foligno said. “We beat ourselves in this one.”