NEWARK, N.J. – It’s time to shut it down.
The Buffalo Sabres need a break. They need a break from playing. They need a break from losing.
They disagree, of course. Their mind-set is to dig in, play another game and get back in the win column. That’s their words anyway. Their actions during Saturday’s 4-2 loss to New Jersey said something different.
Late in the second period and early in the third, after they fell in a 3-1 hole, the Sabres looked beaten on the bench. Heads drooped. Backs hunched. Conversation, which flows during the good times, went silent.
It added up to a team that needs to get away and recoup from losses on the ice and in the dressing room. They’ll get it Sunday.
After playing nine times in 15 nights, including back-to-back losses to New Jersey on Friday and Saturday, the Sabres will get a day off. They don’t play again until visiting St. Louis on Tuesday, and the time away could be a benefit for a team that’s on slides of 0-2-2 and 1-3-2.
“It’s tough right now,” captain Brian Gionta said. “It’s on us to find energy, find ways to be at the top of our game and keep pushing through it.”
The Sabres certainly weren’t at the top of their game in Prudential Center. They started slow, falling in a 1-0 hole, and couldn’t bounce back after New Jersey snapped a 1-1 tie with two straight second-period goals.
“Started to find our groove a bit, tie it up, but those next two were killer for us, that third one especially,” Gionta said.
The disappointment for coach Dan Bylsma was how easy the Devils went ahead. The goal that made it 2-1 was a two-on-one. The next goal was another rush chance.
“It really was just too easy,” Bylsma said.
When teams are tired, they need to play smarter. The Sabres continued to take careless penalties, including tripping and hooking penalties by Evander Kane. The Devils had five power plays to just one for Buffalo.
Though neither team scored on the man-advantage, the short-handed time adversely affected the Sabres again. They managed just 23 shots, including six in the third period.
“We’ve got to work harder and smarter to create some things, put more stuff to the net, be in front of the goalie a little more,” Sabres netminder Robin Lehner said. “It’s like we’re wasting a lot of energy for nothing sometimes.”
The Sabres aren’t in position to waste energy. With Jack Eichel and Ryan O’Reilly among the players injured, Buffalo needs to be in sync to compensate for the absences. It’s not.
“I’ve got to play better, but I feel like we open up a bit too much and feel like the counter-rushes are hurting us sometimes,” said Lehner, stopped 23 of 27 shots. “They kept playing the same way, and we opened up. A two-on-one and it’s 2-1.
“We’ve got to find something to come back. We come out in the third, and I just didn’t think we really got it going.”
Added Gionta: “When they’re able to stop the momentum and create more of their own, it’s tough. We had to try to manufacture some stuff when we weren’t at our best, and we weren’t able to do it.”
The Sabres will get their wish and get back on the ice soon. The game in St. Louis kicks off a stretch of six in 11 nights. But first they’ll take a break. Whether they know it or not, they need it.
“It’s not like we’ve lost five in a row or anything, but we can’t be satisfied with mediocrity,” Lehner said. “We’ve got to work at it. We’ve got to change a few things and get better.”