VANCOUVER, B.C. – It’s a three-game Western Canada washout for the Buffalo Sabres, who continue to creep closer to the dark side of the NHL record books.
The Sabres’ 5-2 loss Friday night to the Ryan Miller-led Vancouver Canucks in Rogers Arena was their 14th straight. It’s the longest skid in the league in nearly 22 years and here’s a bizarre comparison: A team that has just lost 14 games in a row has only 14 wins in its 50 games all season.
Whether the goal is Connor McDavid or not, it’s almost inconceivable any NHL team could go an entire month without a point – as the Sabres just did in an 0-12 January – or not find a way to get a single game into overtime in such a long stretch.
“It really is,” acknowledged coach Ted Nolan. “But when things go bad, things go bad. It’s one of those things where every time we make a mistake, it seems to be in our net. When things are like that, that’s what usually happens.”
Miller didn’t have to do much to win this game, as the Canucks outshot Buffalo, 38-22. He was beaten only by two Chris Stewart power-play goals and made a big save on Drew Stafford, who cut in alone late in the second period when the Sabres were down only 3-2.
Miller said there was not much chirping on the ice during the game.
“It was more some looks,” he said. “You catch a glance.”
After the game, Miller skated to the bench to shake hands with members of the team’s training and equipment staff. He met other members of the support staff earlier in the day.
“I took a chance this morning to sneak over and see them before the players arrived to say hi,” Miller said. “That’s the kind of thing you do to see your friends. You can’t just throw up the walls just because it’s game day.”
The Sabres seemingly have a wall up when it comes to winning. They played a good first period but gave up Bo Horvat’s goal with 23 seconds left that got the Canucks even at 1-1 heading into the first intermission. Andrej Meszaros took a hooking penalty at the buzzer and Yannick Weber scored on the power play at 1:43 of the second as Patrick Kaleta and Matt Ellis dropped coverage. Buffalo never caught up again.
Foolish penalties by captain Brian Gionta and Drew Stafford contributed to a Vancouver power-play goal and a four-on-four tally. Gionta’s interference call in the offensive zone led to Nick Bonino’s power-play goal at 4:19 of the second that made it 3-1.
“I put that on myself,” Gionta said. “A bad penalty there that really cost us.”
“The older guys took them tonight,” Nolan said. “It’s 3-2 going into the third, we get a power play and Stafford takes a high sticking penalty and kills us and we go four on four.”
The two big plus sidelights to the game were the play of goaltender Matt Hackett, who was strong in his first NHL game in nearly 10 months after enduring major knee surgery, and the resurgence of the power play. It has scored five goals in the last five games and Friday’s contest was its first multi-goal game of the season.
“It’s just simplicity,” said Stewart, who now has nine goals on the season. “We’re doing some video, trying to get one step ahead knowing our outlets. We’re getting pucks to the net and scoring greasy ones.”
There wasn’t really much Hackett could do on any of the Vancouver goals. He said his knee had normal soreness after the game but held up to the rigors of NHL play.
“It’s huge,” Hackett said. “It’s definitely a very scary injury, especially for a goalie who is on his knees all the time. I’m very happy with the work I’ve done. I’ve worked pretty hard. The training staff has done a great job and I’m just thankful to be back.”
“I really liked Matty tonight,” Nolan said. “I thought he gave us a chance. He was competitive, played the puck. I really liked his game.”
Hackett said his nerves were increased by who was in the crease at the other end of the rink.
“I’ve been looking up to ‘Millsy’ since I was kid,” Hackett said. “I thought he was one of the best goalies I’ve ever seen. I was pretty nervous to play him and it was a lot of fun.”
While Hackett’s return was a big story, so was Nolan’s sudden decision to make Cody Hodgson a healthy scratch for the second time this season. The coach skated Hodgson on the fourth line in warmups, then opted to take him out of the lineup and play with seven defensemen.
Hodgson has just two goals and seven points this season and committed a grievous turnover that led to Edmonton’s insurance goal Thursday night.
“We need better,” Nolan said. “Cody has been like that the vast majority of the year. He had a couple spurts here and there but not enough for a player of his caliber.”
The Sabres will be off Saturday as they fly to Montreal. They’ll practice Sunday and Monday and meet the Canadiens on Tuesday. One small glimmer of hope: Their last road win was in the Bell Centre on Nov. 29. They’ve gone 0-13-1 away from home since with 10 straight losses.
“It stings. It stings for sure,” Stewart said. “It’s such a good group of guys in this room. No one is happy about it. It’s disgusting when you think about it.”