Optimists in Sabreland could look at Thursday’s game against Boston and see a few things to like. The power play finally scored. The Sabres added to their point total for the third time.
Pessimists have more evidence to add to their cause. The Sabres gave up the tying goal with 5:30 left. They got outshot, 37-15.
Realists know Buffalo needs to play a near-perfect game in order to win. The Sabres certainly weren’t perfect in overtime, which is why the folks who visit First Niagara Center are still looking to celebrate a victory.
The Sabres left Brad Marchand wide open – make that WIDE OPEN – in overtime, and the pesky Bruins forward had no trouble beating Jhonas Enroth to hand the Sabres a 3-2 setback. Buffalo fell to 2-8-1, including 0-4-1 at home.
The overtime breakdown was a crusher.
“That’s why we’re a bad team right now,” Enroth said. “We can’t give up goals like that in overtime.”
Forwards Drew Stafford and Tyler Ennis (Buffalo’s two goal scorers) and defensemen Josh Gorges and Tyler Myers got stuck on the ice for the entire 1:20 of overtime. An NHL rule change now puts the team’s defensive zone furthest from the bench, and Buffalo’s quartet never got near it.
They never got near Marchand, either.
“It doesn’t matter if you get caught tired,” coach Ted Nolan said. “You’ve still got to know where to go on the ice. We got caught getting lost on the ice, and they scored.”
Said Ennis: “In four-on-four overtime, you try to play man-on-man. We got caught out there too long, and they did a bunch of switches, a bunch of interchanges. Their D were playing low, their forwards were playing high, and that’s a good offensive play to do. We didn’t communicate enough, and we left Marchand in the slot. He’s going to put that home.
“Jhonas played a great game. It’s frustrating that we leave him out to dry like that.”
Enroth, who was miffed at playing just once in the previous four games, made 34 saves and wasn’t beaten cleanly until OT. Marchand tied the game in the closing minutes when a puck bounced off his hand, and Boston’s first goal ricocheted off Sabres defenseman Mike Weber.
“That’s going to happen if you keep putting pucks on net,” said Enroth, whose team was outshot, 16-4, during the third period.
The close game in front of 17,477 fans came after one of the worst outings in franchise history, a 4-0 loss in Toronto in which Buffalo took just 10 shots. The Sabres still don’t take a lot of shots, but their accuracy during the second period made up for it. Buffalo scored on two of its three to lead after 40 minutes for just the second time this season.
On a night when Tim Horton’s daughters conducted the ceremonial puck drop, the Sabres finally got rid of their doughnut on the power play. They started the season 0 for 33 before Stafford connected with 5:12 gone in the second.
Stafford’s huge fist pump whacked the weight off the shoulders of Buffalo’s beleaguered unit and the right winger, who found the net for the first time.
“It feels pretty good to finally get that first one but more importantly contribute with the power play,” Stafford said. “It’s just embarrassing, unacceptable to go O-for for this long. For it to finally click feels good.”
Boston tied the game midway through the second, but Ennis scored his team-high fourth of the year with 3:35 left to give Buffalo the lead back. He cashed in a two-on-one with Torrey Mitchell.
“We still need to address the shots,” Ennis said. “That falls on everybody, but mostly our offensive guys.”
The Sabres, who made one lineup change with defenseman Tyson Strachan replacing Andrej Meszaros, play back-to-back games this weekend. They visit Pittsburgh on Saturday night and host the Detroit Red Wings at 5 p.m. Sunday.
“I liked our effort,” Nolan said. “You’re just frustrated you played hard and still you didn’t get two points.”