SAN FRANCISCO – Chris Stewart sat motionless, but the emotions were obviously churning underneath. He was bummed by another loss, frustrated by a lack of goals and furious that some Sabres believe moral victories are enough.
“I get the feeling that we’re just happy to be in games,” the right winger said. “That’s just not good enough. We’ve got to want to win. We can’t just be happy to be down, 2-0, to a good team. We’ve got to have more desperation in us. We’ve got to play like our life’s on the line.
“Until we do that consistently, we’re not going to start winning games.”
Not much was expected from the Sabres this season, and so far they’ve delivered in extraordinary fashion. Buffalo heads into this afternoon’s game in San Jose (4 p.m., MSG, Radio 550 AM) with four straight losses, a 1-7 record and an inability to find the net.
Just because it was expected doesn’t mean it’s acceptable.
“We’ve got San Jose, and it’s going to be another good test,” Stewart said. “We’re going to learn a lot about the guys in this dressing room. We can pack it in and go home 0-3, or we can show some dignity and earn some respect and get two points in San Jose.”
One of the main challenges the Sabres will face this season is dealing with adversity. They don’t have what it takes to win more than they lose, so handling bumps will be a big deal. So far, they’re not doing it well.
“When you lose, it’s tough,” coach Ted Nolan said. “It’s very frustrating when you don’t do the things in order to get out of it.”
The Sabres have been shut out in three of their last four games, including Thursday’s 2-0 blanking in Los Angeles. They’ve scored just once during the drought (with five minutes left in Wednesday’s 4-1 loss to Anaheim) to drop their NHL-worst goals average to exactly one per game.
“One goal in the last four games, it’s just not good enough,” captain Brian Gionta said. “We’re creating chances playing some good teams, but at the end of the day we’ve got to find ways to get goals, get wins in whatever way we can. Right now we’re just not doing that.”
It’s a team-wide problem. Only four players – Tyler Ennis, Zemgus Girgensons, Marcus Foligno and Torrey Mitchell – have scored. Top-line forwards Matt Moulson, Drew Stafford, Cody Hodgson (only nine shots), Stewart and Gionta have no goals.
“The onus is on me,” said Stewart, who had a game-high seven shots Thursday. “That’s one of my jobs on this team is to do that, and I’m not doing do it.”
“We’ve had pucks around the net, and I don’t know how some of them stayed out,” Moulson said. “I don’t know if we did a great job of getting guys to the net. We’re getting better at it, but we’ve got to get more guys to the net more often.
“We’re running out of excuses, and you’ve got to find ways to get wins in this league.”
While the word “floating” may be too harsh, the Sabres certainly haven’t dived into the goal-scoring areas around the cage.
“We’ve got a lot of guys driving by the net and not stopping in front of it,” Nolan said. “We’re not a fancy team. We get across the blue line, we want to pass the puck for some reason.”
Nolan wanted a second opinion on his team’s offensive missteps, so he sent assistant coach Bryan Trottier from the bench to the press box in Los Angeles. The Hall of Famer zeroed in on certain players from above and tracked their passing tendencies, back-checking and skating angles.
“There’s a few of our guys that I really wanted him to key on and in his experience can talk to,” Nolan said. “I’ve got Bryan to really look at a few guys and have heart-to-heart discussions with those guys.”
The Sabres entered Friday night’s schedule as one of only three teams without a power-play goal (Minnesota and Winnipeg were the others). Buffalo has nothing to show for 27 opportunities, which was tied for fifth-most in the NHL.
“We have the group that we have,” Nolan said. “Drew Stafford’s a 20-goal scorer. Matt Moulson’s a 20-goal scorer. Tyler Ennis is a 20-goal scorer. Hodgson’s a 20-goal scorer. We can draw up all we want. We’ve just got to find a way to get shots through.”
Though the Sharks remain a Western Conference power, they are stumbling as well. San Jose has lost three straight to fall to 4-3-1. The Sharks’ power-play was tied for 24th at 76 percent.
One of the teams may cure what ails them at the expense of the other.
“We got enough guys in here that have played a lot of hockey games,” Mitchell said. “We’re just frustrated. Whether or not we’re doing the right things and playing well, at the end of the day, if we’re not getting two points then we didn’t do the right things.”
Buffalo has announced three Sunday home games – Nov. 2 versus Detroit, Feb. 8 against the Islanders and Feb. 22 versus Nashville – as Perry’s Ice Cream Kids Days. With the purchase of one full-price 300 Level II ticket for $50, fans can purchase up to four additional tickets for $15 each for children 15 and under.
The first two games begin at 5 p.m. in First Niagara Center, while the game against Nashville is at 6 p.m. The deal should benefit the team as well as the fans. The upper corners of the arena have gone unsold for most games in Buffalo so far, and the discount could help the Sabres fill the building to capacity.
Tickets can be purchased at the arena box office, Tickets.com or by calling (888) Go-Sabres.