There was plenty of blame to go around the Buffalo Sabres' locker room after Sunday's epic collapse against the Nashville Predators. Thomas Vanek wasn't spreading any. He was pointing it all right at himself.
Vanek was never able to find the net with numerous chances to put the game on ice and then was caught cheating in the defensive zone on Martin Erat's overtime winner that allowed the Predators to slip out of town with a stunning 4-3 win.
Vanek is second on the Sabres with 25 goals but has just three in his last 17 games. He had nine shots on goal in the two games over the weekend and failed to put any home. Two other chances that didn't count as shots went behind the goaltender, through the crease and out the other side.
"I feel like I'm playing good and I got my chances," Vanek said. "Obviously I'm not good enough to put them away. I just have to keep working hard in practice and that's about it. It's a 3-1 hockey game and I had a couple good chances and didn't put them away for sure, 4-1, 5-1. Just didn't do a good enough job."
In Saturday's 8-2 win over Atlanta, Vanek was foiled on two breakaways. On one, his slapshot hit the goalpost, hit Chris Mason in the back, deflected off the crossbar and bounced away.
Vanek's bizarre Sunday night started on the first shift when he fanned on a Tim Connolly feed to the doorstep. He was robbed by Anders Lindback twice in the second period, including one shot with the goalie down that he failed to lift over him. And in the third period, Vanek fanned on a Chris Butler pass and was robbed after a nifty offering from Jason Pominville.
"We went to close it out and they kept working hard getting pucks to the net," Vanek said. "We played well in the second. In the third we had chances to add on to our lead and put the game out of hand. I have to be better than that."
On the overtime goal, Vanek got caught as defenseman Ryan Suter got the puck on a pass from David Legwand from behind the net and fed Erat.
"I was with him [Suter], the puck went behind [the net] and I thought we had it so I stayed behind him," Vanek said. "It was just a bad read by me. I've got to stay in front of him. That one is on me."
"He's a little snakebit and a little frustrated," admitted coach Lindy Ruff. "Even in overtime, he tried to cheat too early and when you're frustrated because it's not going in, you're hoping for that one extra break."
Vanek and linemates Connolly and Pominville combined for 13 shots on goal in the game but only Connolly scored after a steal by Vanek at the Nashville line.
"He (Vanek) made a couple nice plays to me, too, and we just had a tough time putting them away," Pominville said. "That's tough, especially when you lose a game by a goal and you know it could have been a difference."
Nashville rookie Blake Geoffrion had his first career hat trick, including the tying goal with 1:23 left in regulation. Three of the five rookie hat tricks in the NHL this season are against Buffalo. The Rangers' Derek Stepan and the Islanders' Michael Grabner posted the others. It was the fifth hat trick against Buffalo this season.
Geoffrion is the grandson of late Montreal legend Bernie "Boom Boom" Geoffrion and great grandson of another Montreal legend, Howie Morenz. His father, Danny, was a first-round pick of the Canadiens. Blake Geoffrion wears No. 5 to honor his grandfather.
The Sabres scratched defenseman Steve Montador after he suffered a lower body injury in Saturday's game. Shaone Morrisonn replaced him. The Sabres did not take a penalty for the first time since Dec. 21, 2009 at Toronto. The Sabres and Predators had not met in Buffalo since Dec. 1, 2008. Nashville is 5-1-1 all-time at HSBC.