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Sabres had winning formula but left it in western Canada

It takes more than a scorching power play and perfect goaltending to win in the NHL. Those things come and go. Successful teams have a consistent effort from the top to the bottom of the lineup.

The Buffalo Sabres apparently forgot.

After being in sync and unbeatable during their three-game road trip, the Sabres returned home and looked disjointed in a 3-1 loss to New Jersey. The speed that blew past Vancouver was stuck in low gear. The passing that made Edmonton dizzy was missing. The will to win that knocked off Calgary didn't show up until the final minutes.

The folks who inhabit KeyBank Center will simply have to trust that those traits exist.

"We want to bring that hockey that we showed that we can play out west to this arena and for our fans," defenseman Jake McCabe said Tuesday night. "You guys saw that we can play that way, and we all see it, too. So we need to bring that for our fans and for the city. Tonight's unacceptable, but we get another shot at it on Thursday."

The Sabres are settling in for a five-game homestand and play 20 of their final 33 downtown. The first one didn't go as planned.

"That road trip, we were very loose and started with a fresh mindset," center Ryan O'Reilly said. "We had a job, and we did it. We get home and we're overthinking things. We're waiting for the game to happen.

"I myself feel it, too. It's frustrating because we want this to be a tough building to play in. We want to take advantage of it, and we can't seem to find it right now."

Mike Harrington: Streak gone in another home snoozer

The Sabres were a five-man unit throughout their memorable road trip. One of the few times they were on the same page Tuesday was after the game. Every player exited the dressing room before the doors opened (aside from Robin Lehner, who was talking with goaltending coach Andrew Allen).

"Our five-on-five game wasn't where it needed to be," Sabres coach Phil Housley said. "You were contested every time you got a puck, and if you weren't ready for that it was very evident out there."

Oh, it was evident. The Sabres took just 18 even-strength shots, and the only goal came from McCabe on the power play with 5:02 to play.

"They're always on top of you, always in your face," McCabe said. "We weren't ready to make that next play, and they won a lot more battles than us. Our inconsistent play, you saw the result."

The Devils opened the scoring with the type of goal Buffalo wants. Defenseman Will Butcher carried the puck to center ice, then hit streaking Miles Wood in stride for a rush goal.

Buffalo had few rushes, if any.

"Our execution was way better on the road, and I can't explain it," Housley said. "We didn't process fast. We didn't play fast. As a result, they looked faster."

Added center Jack Eichel: "A lot of it starts in our own zone. Their D did a good job with the gaps on the walls. They were pinching down, and I thought their forwards did a good job of reloading. When you don't break the puck out cleanly and you're putting the puck up the walls for a lot of 50-50 battles, it makes it tougher. I thought that's what we did.

"I don’t think we were sharp."

The Wraparound: Devils 3, Sabres 1

The edge the Sabres had on the road somehow disappears downtown. The players rarely lift the crowd, and the dwindling fans have little reason to lift the players.

"It's a little heavier, not as light," O'Reilly said of playing at home compared to the road. "We're overthinking things and not enough just going and playing the game. I don't know. It's something we have to figure out soon."

The Sabres host Florida on Thursday, St. Louis on Saturday, Anaheim on Tuesday and the New York Islanders on Feb. 8. The fans who show up hope the winning team from the West Coast catches a flight to Buffalo.

"We've got a lot of home games coming up here, so we need to be better," Eichel said. "We want to put a show on for the fans that come here and pay to watch us play every night. It's unfortunate that we obviously haven't been good here. It's something we need to get better at.

"We've got 19 home games left this year, and we've obviously got to start building in the right direction to make this a better environment and a harder place to play for opposing teams."

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