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Mike Harrington: Streak gone in another home snoozer

Teams get hot in the NHL all the time. It's what essentially makes the season for clubs that head to the playoffs. Of course, they usually do it by dominating at home.

There was plenty of check-it-out giddiness over the Sabres' three-game winning streak last week in Western Canada and with good reason. They looked terrific in virtually every facet of the game and were downright dominant in both Edmonton and Vancouver.

Reality intruded Tuesday during a 3-1 loss to the New Jersey Devils in what, for 55 minutes at least, seemed like the 50th snoozer of the season in KeyBank Center. It was as if last week was some sort of winter blue light special and the Sabres had returned to their regularly scheduled programming.

The winning streak, just the second one of the season to even hit two games, was toast and the Sabres fell short in their bid for their first four-game run since 2014. Here's some perspective to ponder: How many times has an NHL team won at least four games in a row this season? Give it a guess.

Forty-nine. Yes, I said 49.

Twenty-two of those streaks have stretched to five wins or more — something the Sabres haven't done since 2012 — and Colorado's 10-gamer that ended Jan. 22 leads the way.

There are 17 teams in the league this year who have won at least five in a row once. And everyone except the Sabres, Arizona, Ottawa and Anaheim have won at least four straight.

There's not enough talent on this team right now and everybody knows that but Tuesday's game was a colossal disappointment. It was everything the road trip wasn't.

Too often, the Sabres looked slow. They didn't skate or pass with any authority at 5-on-5, got a little boost from their power play in the first period but couldn't capitalize on the momentum. Poor Robin Lehner gave up his first goal in three games and lost as his team was held to one goal or less downtown for the eighth time this season.

The record at home is 6-13-3. And players in the dressing room afterward admitted they were feeling tight at home. There's 19 more games left here, boys. Better figure something out.

The Sabres simply aren't good enough to stand prosperity without a solid effort and Tuesday's game was a classic post-break sleeper for both teams. The Devils, who had not scored in two of their last three games, were hardly worldbeaters in this one either but they played a solid road game, good on the walls and strong in front of their own net to clear the way for goaltender Keith Kinkaid.

Jack Eichel had some pretty sharp analysis after this one, pointing out the Sabres' inability to win enough 50-50 pucks or to start a crisp breakout from their own zone. The Sabres were too redundant in their system, eschewing the middle of the ice when it may have provided more opportunity.

"They did a good job, took a lot away from us," Eichel said. "They played with speed. Maybe we backed up and let them come at us. They have some crafty forwards that can make some plays."

Kinkaid came into the game with a 3.28 goals-against average and .892 save percentage on the season. He was 5:05 away from a shutout until Jake McCabe scored. The Sabres got another power play in the final three minutes and came close to a tying goal but it didn't happen.

Good on them for making a game of it at the end. But that, of course, should not be the standard.

"I would think they would have had confidence coming off the road trip," said coach Phil Housley. "Build off that and realize what it took to win three games and not give up an even-strength goal. We didn't process fast. We didn't play fast."

Teams that think fast and play usually pile up wins fast. Sabres winger Jason Pominville played in one of the most unusual regular season games in NHL history last year on New Year's Eve as his Minnesota Wild lost to the Columbus Blue Jackets, 4-2. Columbus won its 15th straight in a streak that would end at 16 while the Wild's run ended at 12 straight wins. It was the only game in NHL history where both teams entered it with a winning streak of at least 12 games.

"It's almost as if you have that feeling where anything you do, you're going to win," Pominville said. "You're confident, you're getting bounces when you need them, big saves when you need them. It's a pretty full feeling. You have that confidence in the team."

The Sabres started to get that look just a bit on their road trip. After an overtime win in Calgary and a 5-0 blitz of Edmonton, they had a day off. Then they crushed Vancouver, 4-0, in a game you felt — for a rare time — that they were absolutely going to win.

"Even in our practices, you come to the rink and guys are talking, they're calling for their passes," Pominville said. "There's more jump, there's better execution. Everything seemed better on that road trip.

"We got off to a great start and we kind of looked like a completely different team. People watching it were probably sitting there going, 'This is fun. This is the way the game should be played."

It didn't go that way until the last five minutes Tuesday. Streak over. As small as it was.

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