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Mike Harrington: Sabres performance vs. Leafs was tank-era hideous hockey

This edition of the Buffalo Sabres was not designed to lose. Just in case you were wondering.

That fact makes the hideous hockey we saw in the first period Monday night worse than anything proffered upon a white flag-waving fan base since Tim Murray became general manager in 2014 and Dan Bylsma became coach in 2015.

The Toronto Maple Leafs were in town and that should be motivation enough, no matter what the standings say. But the Sabres were mentally and physically inept. Don't let the 4-2 final score fool you.

The Sabres were outshot, 18-2, in a first period that ended with them in a 3-0 hole. They gave up 33 shot attempts and took only 11. They lost 15 of 21 faceoffs. It was the kind of performance that gets coaches fired. The kind that gets GMs sent out the door too. The kind that should get the owner speaking out to apologize to the fans for the sham they've been sold.

The Leafs have 93 points, or 17 more than the Sabres. They're almost certainly going to the playoffs, barring total weirdness over their final four games.

The Sabres are going only to the first tee once they get back from the season finale Sunday in Tampa. And they might do it as the last-place team in the Atlantic Division, now that they're tied with Detroit.

"We're all professionals and we need to handle it professionally," a somber Jack Eichel said after the defeat. "I wasn't very good tonight and I'm sure a lot of other guys can say the same. We played a good hockey team that was hungry and they beat us in all facets of the game."

Sure did. The final shot count was 45-22 and it was 29-8 through 40 minutes. The Sabres have beaten the Leafs twice this season, including just nine days previously. But they were completely outclassed on this night.

"They came out like you saw and I don't think we responded,' said Sam Reinhart. "I thought the first 2-3 shifts we played well and then they took over and obviously changed the game. We proved it, what a week ago? We can play against that team. Use our size and puck movement to our advantage. It's a shame we didn't put the effort forward tonight."

Albeit as pretty as many of his goals, Eichel got a garbage-time breakaway goal assisted by Reinhart with 56 seconds left. Other than that, Buffalo's back-to-back No. 2 overall picks simply weren't good enough. Eichel's body language was poor as he lolly-gagged back to the bench at the end of several shifts.

Reinhart has two goals and five assists over his last 14 games. He has just one multi-point game over his last 24 outings and that is against Arizona, which is only a shade above an AHL team a lot of nights.

Say this for Eichel and Reinhart: They were stand-up late Monday night. They took the brunt of the blame and refused to throw any shade at coach Dan Bylsma.

Asked if rumored communication breakdowns between the coaches and players contributed to the poor start, Eichel bristled.

"I don't think that has anything to do with the fact that we gave up three goals in the first period, we weren't ready to play, gave them too many scoring chances and we weren't sharp," Eichel said. "It has nothing to do with the communication between coaches and players. It has everything to do with players being ready to play, showing up here at 5 o'clock a couple hours before the game and preparing yourself to play a hockey game."

Reinhart sounded a more ominous tone about the entire rebuild.

"They played the way they needed to close out a game comfortably," he said. "It's frustrating from our standpoint because it's not just going to change overnight and it's not just going to change over a summer. We have to find a way to get better on a nightly basis, all of us."

(Yeesh. This better change in a big way over this summer)

"It's up to the players to put the right effort forward, no matter what system it is," Reinhart said. " We have to find a way to be better. You have to be together as a group. We have to compete on a nightly basis better, certainly better than tonight."

In that fateful minute of the first, the Sabres got burned by a Leo Komarov tap-in that was the result of Jake McCabe's second abominable giveaway in two days. By an Auston Matthews laser. And eight seconds later, by James van Riemsdyk's shot off a faceoff loss from Ryan O'Reilly.

Three goals in 43 seconds hastened a quick exit for Robin Lehner. He was the fortunate one.

"They were gifts. They were gaffes," said an ashen-faced Bylsma. "... We were standing there, we missed our assignments and it's an easy goal."

Whose play was worth it Monday?

Backup goalie Anders Nilsson stopped the first 30 shots and 39 of 40 he faced. As for the forwards, Evander Kane had his legs and an edge all night. Over the first 40 minutes,the Sabres had just eight shots on goal and Kane had three of them.

Forget any comparison to the Leafs for a moment. Show of hands of anyone who picked the Sabres to finish last in the Atlantic. Anyone? No hands visible. Mine certainly isn't up either. That seemed inconceivable. And enough of the tiresome injury mulligan.

"They were hungrier. They wanted it more than us," Eichel said. "It's frustrating more than anything when you take yourself out of the playoff picture. These are the games that are easier to get up for. I'm disappointed in myself. I've got to be better. I've got to lead better. I've got to step up. Going forward, I have to expect more out of myself. ... I've got to take on more responsiblity and be more of a leader on this team. I've got to get us ready to play better."

The chant of "Go Leafs Go" echoed through the building in the final three minutes after most Sabres fans had long deserted the premises. Had to be ringing in Eichel's ears too. Talk about humiliating.

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