Belief in short supply as Sabres' slide continues - The Buffalo News
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Belief in short supply as Sabres' slide continues

It might be time for Dan Bylsma to tell the goalies to take Friday off. Let the Buffalo Sabres practice with empty nets so they can keep firing pucks home again and again.

This team's belief system is toast just 17 games into a much-anticipated season, ruined by a lethal cocktail of injuries, bad execution and bad luck.

The Sabres had 33 shots on goal in Thursday's 4-1 loss to the Tampa Bay Lightning in KeyBank Center and the offense was unable to finish several chances coaches like to tab as "Grade A."

But getting this team's confidence to cave is as easy as cracking an egg, or shattering one of Rasmus Ristolainen's exploding graphite stick shafts.

For those scoring at home, that's eight goals in seven games downtown. The NHL's worst offense has scored one goal or less nine times in 17 games overall. The per-game average is down to a paltry 1.82.

Grumbled Sabres winger Evander Kane, who has not scored in his six games: "It must be a joke floating around the league: You score two goals against the Buffalo Sabres and you're going to win the hockey game."

Ouch.

The most symbolic play of a dreadful run reminiscent of the tank days from 2013-2015 came early in the second period with the Sabres down, 1-0. Tampa Bay goalie Ben Bishop went for a skate behind the net to corral the puck and foolishly threw it up the slot -- right to Sabres winger Kyle Okposo.

Okposo, the big free-agent addition of the summer, couldn't miss with an empty net in front of him. Or could he? Bishop burst back in the crease, dove to his right and made a diving backhand save to keep the Sabres behind in a game that saw them never catch up.

"It stings. It's a 1-0 game at that point," Okposo said. "I just thought he was completely out of it and wanted to make sure. I settled it for a half-second, shot it and he made a heck of a save."

"It was a good save but it was a bad turnover so I don’t know which way you want to look at it," Bishop said. "Little bit of luck involved there ... I dove and I felt it hit my glove and I was kind of like ‘Are you kidding me?’ "

There was plenty of that feeling on the other bench.

"I still don't know quite how the goaltender comes over and gets it," said Bylsma, whose 500th NHL game was spoiled by the loss. "You're starting to build up the if-you're-ever-going-to-get-one-by-a-goaltender."

Sam Reinhart had a pair of chances with half-empty nets and fired the puck into Bishop. Ristolainen put a backhand under the goalie and the puck went out the other side. Cody Franson got the lone goal on a power play midway through the second period to cut the deficit to 2-1.

But fourth liners Nicholas Baptiste and William Carrier butchered a pass in their own zone that led to Nikita Kucherov's goal with 17 seconds left in the second period to make it 3-1 through 40 minutes.

The paying customers don't believe. Two goals down and the game was over as folks started streaming to the exit at the second intermission.  The ticket count was a season-low 17,870. The in-house crowd was lower. The final four minutes of the team's sixth straight loss ticked away with maybe 5,000 in the house. And they were surly, booing loudly at the final horn

One leatherlung in the 300 level near the press box bellowed at General Manager Tim Murray, "Come on Murray, make a move!" Earlier in the evening during his weekly interview on WGR Radio, Murray said that's not going to be very easy with the time near the salary cap most days.

"There's no GM out there going into his office in the morning saying, 'Let's give Tim Murray a hand here. Let's help him out here. We feel bad for him,' " Murray said. "That's not going to happen. Plug away and see if we can get something done. Right now there's just been a lot of vague talk and nothing specific."

Murray admitted Bylsma and the coaching staff are frustrated by the team's run of injuries.

"There will be brighter days ahead, hopefully sooner rather than later," the GM said. "But we know this is not our team on the ice. We're looking forward to at some point having the team on the ice and seeing what we really need to get better or if we're good enough."

"Nobody is feeling sorry for us," Okposo said. "The work ethic has been there but we've got to find a way to get an extra gear and put the puck in the net."

Still, Okposo admitted, the locker room is uneasy. The hope tank is pushing empty.

"It's getting tested for sure," he said. "We've got to show some mettle, some mental toughness, come back tomorrow and go to work."

Added Kane: "We've got to have more guys that want to be a difference maker, want to have the puck on their stick.  We've got to be harder to play against."

email: mharrington@buffnews.com

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