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No defense for Sabres' lack of awareness

There was a small divide between the players and coach Phil Housley on what went wrong during the Buffalo Sabres' latest loss.

They were both right.

Buffalo's players bemoaned their lack of aggression during the third period Tuesday. Pittsburgh outshot the Sabres, 13-6, to erase a 4-3 deficit and earn a 5-4 overtime win.

"We were flicking pucks out to the neutral zone and letting them come back, back and back again," Sabres goaltender Robin Lehner said.

The Penguins finished with 81 shot attempts while the Sabres had 45.

"We changed our game," said right wing Sam Reinhart. "We had no business and no reason to change our game. Hopefully, we can learn from that and be better next game."

Housley saw a bigger problem. The Sabres had no defensive awareness.

"If we have to play defense, we have to defend well," Housley said. "You have to defend well. You have to play well without the puck if you're going to win."

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The Sabres didn't play well without the puck. Four of the Penguins' five goals came when they took advantage of Buffalo's defensive lapses:

* The Penguins scored their second goal on a two-on-zero. Buffalo's Jason Pominville pointed out to linemates Johan Larsson and Matt Moulson that Patric Hornqvist and Conor Sheary were crisscrossing in the Penguins' zone. As Pominville pointed for a possible switch, Hornqvist burst past the winger to collect a long outlet pass.

No one ever picked up Sheary, who blew past defenseman Nathan Beaulieu to score.

* Sidney Crosby was in a slump, but that was no reason to let him stand alone in front during a power play. Marco Scandella looked at the back of the Penguins' captain, and Crosby deposited a rebound without being touched.

* Phil Kessel tied the game with 6:11 to play, getting open at the side of the Buffalo net and burying a cross-ice pass.

* While Jack Eichel stood flat-footed in front of the Buffalo net and watched Crosby spin away from Evander Kane, Sheary was alone at the side of the net for an easy overtime winner.

"Our play without the puck, it's awareness in our D-zone," Housley said. "We continue to talk about that. We're going to have to continue to learn from that.

"We put ourselves in a position to win a hockey game going into the third period with a one-goal lead. We've got to be able to shut teams down. There's good teams that are going to create, but we've got to rely on our play without the puck and have urgency to protect the lead and then try to take advantage of mistakes the other team makes."

The mistakes again came from the Sabres, who have proved time and again they don’t know how to win.

They have entered the third period with a lead six times. They are 3-0-3, a .500 winning percentage that ranks 30th in the NHL. Only Arizona, which is 2-2-2 for a .333 winning percentage, is worse.

Sabres' lineup littered with slumps

"In the third period we were just getting rid of pucks," Eichel said. "We weren't forechecking too well. We were letting them set their breakout up, and they played the whole period in our zone."

The Sabres (5-9-4) are about to start an arduous stretch of six games in nine days, but they're at least facing offensively challenged teams. Detroit, which hosts the Sabres on Friday, ranks 26th at 2.61 goals per game. Carolina, which comes to Buffalo on Saturday, is 20th at 2.81.

After that, the Sabres play Columbus (15th), Minnesota (16th), Edmonton (27th) and Montreal (30th).

"We're not going to give up," Lehner said. "We know what spot we're in. We also know if we win one, two, three, all of a sudden we climb back up to .500 and then you never know. We have to take lessons out of this."

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