Even with Jack Eichel in the lineup, the Buffalo Sabres had almost no room for error if they wanted to win. They'll need to be perfect to win without him.
Sunday's game against Colorado was far from perfect.
"It was a game of mistakes. We made too many," Sabres defenseman Marco Scandella said after a 5-4 loss to the Avalanche.
From the opening minute through a frantic late-game push, the Sabres had miscue after miscue. They blew coverages, turned pucks over and looked nothing like the team that methodically picked off Boston on Saturday despite losing Eichel to an ankle injury that will keep him out for a month or longer.
"We didn't stick to our game plan," center Evan Rodrigues said in KeyBank Center. "We didn't keep things simple, and that led to them getting too many good chances, too many good looks at our net. Even though we scored four goals, when you play like that you're going give up what we gave up, and you're not going to win many games."
They're also not going to win with their heads and focus elsewhere. The Sabres gave up the opening goal with 43 seconds gone and allowed the Avs to take a 3-1 lead with 1:07 off the clock in the second period.
"We weren't ready to play," said Sabres defenseman Rasmus Ristolainen, who played possibly the worst game of his career. He was on the ice for all five goals against and was benched at even strength for much of the second and third periods. "I played bad."
He wasn't alone.
"We totally got away from our game, a simple game of getting pucks deep, forechecking, working in the offensive zone," Sabres coach Phil Housley said.
The Sabres' winning streak ended at two games. They fell to 16-30-10 and are 1-5-1 in their last six home games.
"We want to win these games, not only for our fans but to build on things," Housley said. "I think we've been playing pretty good on the road, but we've got to turn that around here at home."
Casey Nelson knew it was a risk. While killing a penalty during the second period, the rookie defenseman got the puck in his zone. He could have made the easy play and dumped it down the ice. Instead, he took off.
The risk came with a big reward. Nelson scored his first NHL goal, joining Kevin O'Shea (March 14, 1971) as the only Sabres player to record their opening goal while short-handed.
"I saw I had some room," Nelson said. "Usually, I don’t do that on the PK, but I saw an opportunity and I took it."
Nelson skated from his end to the Avs' zone, then recovered his own rebound after goaltender Jonathan Bernier made a stop. Nelson circled behind the net and bounced the puck into the cage off Colorado defenseman Erik Johnson. It wasn't intentional.
"I did see him coming toward the net," Nelson said. "I knew that was a possibility, but I kind of just threw it in there and had a lucky bounce."
Nelson's milestone night featured seven shot attempts and a plus-2 rating with 19:17 of ice time.
"It was great to see him get his first NHL goal, a really positive thing for our team," Housley said. "He's been playing really well."
Ryan O'Reilly likes showing the Avs what they once had. The Sabres center, acquired via trade from Colorado in June 2015, had a goal and two assists. He has one goal, eight assists and nine points in six games versus his old team.
"This is his former team, so he definitely wanted to show how good he is out there," Scandella said.
It was the 15th three-point game of O'Reilly's career and pushed his career point total to 401. He also won 29 of 39 faceoffs (74 percent).
"He did everything he could do to try and help us win a game," Housley said.
Colorado center J.T. Compher, part of the package used to acquire O'Reilly, led Avalanche forwards with 21:08 of ice time during his first game in Buffalo. Compher has 11 goals and 20 points in 42 games this season.
“He’s been really good," Colorado coach Jared Bednar said. "He’s an intelligent player, plays with good pace. He’s got a certain amount of grit to his game. He plays center and wing, plays on both specialty teams."