The opening 10-game segment of the Sabres’ season is complete, and a lack of offense is evident. Buffalo has been held to one goal or none in 40 percent of its games, including Thursday’s 2-1 loss to Toronto.
But as coach Dan Bylsma perused the score sheet in KeyBank Center, a few offensive numbers stood out. The Sabres set a season high with 43 shots. They attempted 70, which Bylsma termed the “most by us by a mile.” They spent five minutes more in the offensive zone than Toronto did. They tested Maple Leafs goaltender Frederik Andersen consistently, taking 15 shots in the first period, 16 in the second and 12 in the third.
Those numbers failed to add up to a fourth straight win, but at least the Sabres had a few digits worth dialing up.
“Our game has been coming,” Bylsma said. “How we need to play has been coming. Minus a stretch at the beginning of the second period, we did a great job of getting to the offensive zone, playing in the offensive zone, working to get shots in the offensive zone.”
They just couldn’t score.
“We’re getting a lot of chances, but we’ve got to score more than one,” Sabres left wing Tyler Ennis said. “Stick with it, it’ll start going in.”
Without Jack Eichel and Evander Kane, the Sabres’ have been one of the NHL’s worst offensive teams. They rank 24th with 2.3 goals per game. They entered the night 28th in shots, taking just 27 per game.
They blew past their average late in the second period and set a season high with nine minutes left in the third.
“We were good on the forecheck,” center Ryan O’Reilly said. “Everyone was responsible. They were getting in there quick. We were staying on top of them, and from that we were getting pucks to the net.”
They’ll need to continue it to rise above the rank of mediocre. Not every goalie will record a .977 save percentage like Andersen did, so another 43-shot night should result in more than one celebration.
“If we keep playing like that, we’ll get our bounces,” center Zemgus Girgensons said.
The Sabres could have created even more. O’Reilly, who said none of his game-high seven shots were any good, lamented a lack of rebound chances.
“We did have a good first whack at it,” O’Reilly said. “The important one is the second whack. They did a good job of boxing us out. I don’t know if it’s interference or not, but the way they box out, it’s so tough for us to get in there. The amount of cross-checks I got trying to get to the net was frustrating, but it’s just the way the game goes.”
On this night, the Sabres probably could have topped 50 shots and still not beaten Andersen. He entered the game with a 4-0 record against Buffalo while sporting a 1.00 goals-against average and .954 save percentage. He padded the stats with his glove, acrobatics and pads.
Andersen robbed Girgensons in the first period, stretching his left pad along the goal line to stop Girgensons’ wide-open attempt. The goalie dived through the crease to get a piece of Marcus Foligno’s blast toward an empty net during the second period. He stuck his glove out to stone Ennis late in the third in the one-goal game.
“There was such a scramble in front, I can’t imagine that he saw it,” Ennis said. “It ended up in his glove. It would have been nice if that goes in, it’s a tie game.”
The loss was just the third in the last 20 home games against the Leafs. Buffalo fell to 4-4-2 heading into Saturday’s game in Ottawa, and Andersen was the main reason why.
“You’ve got to give him credit,” Girgensons said. “We had plenty of opportunities. He definitely made some big saves.”