For the majority of the game, the Buffalo Sabres worked their game plan. They slowed the game down defensively, kept pucks to the outside and had some solid possession in the offensive zone.
The execution earned them a 1-0 lead after two periods.
But the Sabres couldn’t close out the win.
With two third-period goals, the St. Louis Blues walked away from First Niagara Center with a 2-1 win Monday night and the Sabres walked away winless in their last five.
It was a particularly frustrating loss for the Sabres, who hit at least three posts, including clanks from Ryan O’Reilly and Johan Larsson within a three-minute span in the first period.
As usual, O’Reilly had strong feelings and didn’t hold back expressing them after the game.
“It’s not good enough. It’s embarrassing,” O’Reilly said. “We did possess the puck low and had chances but we’ve got to hate to lose more. I think we’re too OK with losing and it’s not good. We have to find a way to close out games.
“We have a lead and we don’t have that killer instinct to want to win the third. We think it’s OK. We’ve got one. We’re fine. It’s on myself, too. I’ve got to be a leader and step up and shut the door or do something that denies them momentum or anything like that. There’s a lot to learn.”
Buffalo took a 1-0 lead late in the second period when David Legwand scored his first goal as a Sabre.
But the team failed to score another goal. In their last five games, the Sabres have just five goals and a 0-3-2 record.
The opportunities to score were plentiful for the Sabres. The finishing touch, however, was lacking.
“You can go back further but I hit the crossbar and it could be a 2-0 game,” said captain Brian Gionta who hit the crossbar in the third period. “Just that alone really changes momentum.
“There’s still little mistakes. Those are going to happen throughout the game but for the most part we battled pretty hard and gave ourselves a chance to win. When we have a team down, we’ve got to find a way to close them out.”
The Sabres had a chance to tie the game in the final minute of regulation when Carl Gunnarsson was whistled for closing his hand on the puck. With a pulled goaltender, the Sabres had 60 seconds of 6 on 4 but, once again, couldn’t close out the opportunity.
“We gotta hit the net at a time like that,” O’Reilly said. “We moved it around well. We won some good battles but we’ve got to put something on net with traffic. There were so many bodies on the ice that something’s got to bounce a certain way and we’ve got to win that battle in front of the net. If we’re passing it around, that’s just what they want.”
It was the first time this season the Sabres blew a lead after 40 minutes. Conversely it was the first time the Blues won when trailing after two periods.
The difference in the third period came from the tried-and-true method of going to the net as the Blues converted their opportunities. Troy Brouwer tied the game at 5:07 of the third, putting in a rebound off a Kevin Shattenkirk shot, and Robby Fabbri scored the game-winner off a loose puck in front of Sabres goaltender Linus Ullmark.
“They end up getting goals really on just where the puck is,” Sabres coach Dan Bylsma said. “In both cases, they get a shot to the net that a scramble ensues and they pick up the change around the net on both situations. You thought the way our goaltender was playing that 0-1 was going to be enough to possibly win that game.
“Again they got it the hard way. They got it the old-fashioned way, they put it in the offensive zone, got a puck in around the net and they picked up the goals. … We didn’t give them a lot of good looks and I thought our defense played really good in a lot of aspects of the game.”