MONTREAL -- From a multitude of possible discussion points, there's really only one thing to focus on in the wake of the latest gut-punch absorbed by the Buffalo Sabres.
The name of the game is putting the puck in the net. You can't do it, you don't win. Next case.
The Sabres have scored exactly one goal five times in their last eight games and that's simply taking them nowhere but yet again back to the draft lottery. Buffalo skated well for long stretches Saturday but still only managed one measly goal.
A broken stick, a lost puck battle and an elite deke undid all the good in the Sabres' game. Montreal's Max Pacioretty capitalized, sliding a backhand home past Chad Johnson with 1:52 left in overtime to give the Montreal Canadiens a 2-1 win over the Sabres in Bell Centre. Buffalo fell to 5-9-3 with its second straight loss but the loser point at least got the Sabres out of last place in the Eastern Conference.
The Sabres have a paltry 40 goals in 17 games and their puny average of 2.35 per game is 29th in the NHL. The only teams below them are the pathetic Arizona Coyotes (2.3157) and the stunningly bad Edmonton Oilers (2.3125).
Jack Eichel's team, a nearly AHL team and Connor McDavid's team. Who would have ever guessed that back in 2015? Who would have ever guessed that back in September?
"Scoring goals has been an issue," said Buffalo's Ryan O'Reilly, who netted his team's lone tally on a power play with 5.7 seconds left in the first period. "I had a lucky break on the power play but other than that I didn't generate nearly enough offensively.
"A lot of guys did good things and played hard. But when it comes down to it, the guys who play the most minutes have to put the puck in the net."
The Sabres had 35 shots on goal, equaling their most in the last eight games. Evander Kane and Sam Reinhart had five apiece, with Reinhart's total a season-high. Eichel had three on goal and six attempts in a much better offensive showing than recent games.
Nine players had at least two shots on goal for the Sabres. Almost nobody found the net. The entire defense corps remains 0-for-the-season.
"Tonight was a start," insisted coach Phil Housley. "It was our best night. We got pucks to the net. We were really gritty and dirty in front of the net. We continue to do that, we're going to break that one-goal thing. We had opportunities to score but the thing that was intriguing to me was when we delivered shots to the net we had guys willing to pay a price."
But Eichel, who has now gone a career-high eight games without a goal, still struggled with the puck at times and was in the penalty box on a slashing call when Andrew Shaw tied the game at 1:01 of the third period. Early in overtime, Eichel committed a grievous giveaway to Pacioretty but Johnson bailed him out by stopping the Montreal captain.
Johnson couldn't do anything on the winning goal, a play that started with Nathan Beaulieu snapping his stick in the Montreal zone to turn over possession to the Habs and O'Reilly losing a puck battle along the wall to Philip Danault at the Buffalo blue line. Danault, a former Chicago prospect, fed Pacioretty for the game's decisive breakaway.
"Possession in overtime literally is everything," Beaulieu said. "Whoever has the puck more is usually going to score. It couldn't have happened for a worse time for my stick to snap. It's really unfortunate."
"They made a good play. Skilled players making good plays," O'Reilly said. "It was my error. I should have at least thrown it back to our goalie or do something to at least make sure they don't get possession when we have a broken stick."
Johnson had stopped breakaways earlier in the game by Alex Galchenyuk and Paul Byron but was unable to hold the fort again.
"I tried to be patient because I know he likes to go 5-hole and had a little bit more time," Johnson said of Pacioretty. "He was going slow as well. It was real close, I had to bite and he went around me. My legs weren't long enough there to make the save."
It was the second disappointment of the season against the Canadiens, as the Sabres have lost both meetings in extra time after leading through 40 minutes. They suffered a 3-2 shootout defeat on opening night in KeyBank Center, giving up the tying goal in the final nine minutes of regulation.
"We have to keep our heads up in here," Beaulieu said. "I thought everyone was really good tonight. It's really unfortunate both times we've played Montreal we've had them on the ropes and couldn't get the job done."