Anything less than defensive perfection isn't good enough for the Buffalo Sabres these days.
The Sabres dropped a 3-1 decision to the Detroit Red Wings before 17,666 in Marine Midland Arena Tuesday night. The loss ended a two-game winning streak.
Buffalo has won five games in the month of December (5-5-1 record), and four of them have been by shutouts. The Sabres have scored a total of four goals in the last four games, and 21 goals in 11 games this month.
"I think that's a concern," center Brian Holzinger said. "Any time you score four goals in four games, it's got to be a concern. We have to find a way to score goals five-on-five. That's been the case all year long."
The lack of offense has given goalie Dominik Hasek virtually no margin for error. When he gives up two or more goals in a game, the Sabres are 3-16-3.
"It's tough. A lot of teams are crying for offense," coach Lindy Ruff said. "Teams are paying more attention to defense. It's a two- or three-goal night every night almost."
Buffalo's offensive problems were well-illustrated at the beginning of the second period. Darren McCarty of Detroit and Derek Plante of Buffalo had traded first-period goals, but the Sabres had a great opportunity to break the game open after the first intermission. Buffalo had a two-man advantage for 1:43 after Red Wings goalie Chris Osgood picked up a pair of penalties.
Not only did the Sabres not score in that span, they had only two shots and lost control of the puck a few times.
"We had a few chances and we could have scored there," Donald Audette said. "Everybody felt the pressure; I felt the pressure to put something on the board. Right now we have to pick it up and find a way to get the goal."
"We had a couple of good opportunities, but we didn't sustain a lot on the five-on-three," Ruff said. "We had two chances to score a goal. You'd like to see more in that situation, but our passing wasn't very good."
The rest of the second period went along with the two teams taking turns having good but not great scoring chances. It was one of those games when it felt like the next goal would turn into the winner, and Detroit got it with 1:48 left in the period.
Steve Yzerman did most of the work on the Red Wings' second goal. He set up behind the Buffalo net, and went unchallenged as he patiently waited for something to develop. Anders Eriksson crept in from the point to get himself open in the slot and Yzerman's pass was perfect. The defenseman's first shot was stopped by Hasek, but Eriksson poked home his own rebound.
"Anders is playing well," Detroit coach Scott Bowman said about Eriksson, who is in his first full season with the Red Wings. "We were a little bit worried because he played 25 minutes (Monday) night. I thought our six-man (defensive) unit did well. We had the luxury of playing Anders with experienced defensemen like Larry Murphy."
The Red Wings showed what a defending Stanley Cup champion does with a third-period lead as they kept the Sabres from doing much offensively. Once Kirk Maltby scored with 11 minutes to go to make it a two-goal lead, the outcome became obvious.
"They didn't win the Stanley Cup for nothing," Ruff said. "They are pretty good at protecting a lead. They stuffed things up in the neutral zone. They've got a big defense. We tried to battle by, but for the most part they did a good job of holding us up."
"They played real well defensively," Audette added. "It was like we were going against the (New Jersey) Devils. . . . It was hard to get to the blue line. They had three guys standing up (on the blue line), and they didn't let us get there."
The final buzzer signaled that the Sabres had failed for the fourth time this season to win three games in a row. Ruff had hoped the team's twin shutouts over the weekend would be a springboard.
"At times we battled pretty hard. At times we didn't look like we had any fight at all," he said. "Honestly it's a step back again. It's disappointing. We wanted to build off those two wins."
Buffalo and the rest of the NHL will not practice today or Thursday because of the Christmas holiday. The Sabres host the New York Rangers on Friday night.