One of the side topics to the Buffalo Sabres’ preseason was a fan vote for their new goal song. The winner was a snippet from the DJ Kool rap tune, “Let Me Clear My Throat.” The clip is catchy, has been well-received and features a big finish that usually gets a throat-clearing roar from the crowd.
One problem: Fans at First Niagara Center just aren’t getting the chance to hear it much.
The Sabres’ offensive troubles on home ice continued Thursday night in a 2-1 loss to the New York Islanders that saw them pepper goaltender Thomas Greiss with 43 shots on goal but come up almost completely empty.
Ryan O’Reilly’s power-play goal with 8:42 left prevented the Sabres’ second straight home shutout but that’s about all it did. The Sabres are 8-11-2 downtown this year and have just 41 goals in the 21 home games.
At just 1.95 goals per game, Buffalo is last in the NHL in scoring in its friendly confines. Not the result all those offseason moves was projected to bring.
“I don’t know what that is,” O’Reilly said when told of that stat. “I feel we’re prepared to come play. Maybe it’s not getting to the right areas enough. Our net presence isn’t where it needs to be and that’s on myself too. When things aren’t going well, you have to simplify and go to harder areas. That’s one thing going forward. If we want to win and get out of this rut, we have to do that.”
The Sabres have lost three straight overall, scoring just three goals in those games. They’re 1-3-1 in their last five at home with just six goals.
Nowhere was the Sabres’ frustration more evident Thursday than on the power play. Buffalo had 15 shots on goal in the game with the man-advantage, seven in one first-period attempt that included a 5-on-3. The shots on goal at one point in the opening frame were 16-1 but the game was scoreless. The Sabres are 0 for 6 this season with a two-man advantage.
“The shot volume was there,” said coach Dan Bylsma. “Had good looks. Had net fronts. Had pucks lying in the crease. We had a ton of opportunities tonight and we just weren’t able to put them home.”
The period ended scoreless even though the shot counter was 17-5 in Buffalo’s favor.
“You come into the locker room thinking you have a lot of momentum and it’s still a tie game,” said rookie Jack Eichel. “It’s great to be getting chances because you know you’re playing pretty well. But we have to get over that hump and start to finish some of those opportunties we have.”
Strangely enough, the Islanders took the lead for good on their first power play as Frans Nielsen beat Linus Ullmark at 9:35 of the second period. The irony wasn’t lost on Bylsma.
Said the Buffalo coach about his reaction to the New York goal: “Now you feel like you’re shooting at a net with some cellophane over it and you’re just not able to get one by the goaltender.”
Evander Kane led the Sabres with seven shots on goal, Eichel had six, Rasmus Ristolainen had five while Zemgus Girgensons and Jamie McGinn had four each. None of them scored. The 43 shots were the second-most this season, behind only the 53 in the Oct. 29 loss at Pittsburgh.
O’Reilly’s goal, off a nifty cross-ice pass from Eichel, snapped Buffalo’s home scoreless streak at 119 minutes, 38 seconds. Pretty much two full games.
“We’re not happy where we are right now,” said Eichel. “As a team, we have a lot more to give. We want to be competitive night in and night out and these are games we have to win.”
One takeaway from this one has to be a long-awaited alignment on the power play, with Bylsma finally putting his big guns together. Eichel was moved to a point with Ristolainen on the unit that included O’Reilly, McGinn and Sam Reinhart. Bylsma said he liked Eichel’s game Wednesday in Washington and decided to make the move. It made an instant difference in both zone time and shots.
“It’s a good unit,” Eichel said. “We feed off each other and try to move the puck. We’d like to be better in the first period and that comes with practice.It’s nice to get one and hopefully we can build off that.”
“At least we were getting shots and I guess that’s a start looking at it,” said O’Reilly, whose goal snapped Buffalo’s 0-for-24 slump. Obviously, we need results. We’ve been throwing up donuts the whole time. We get one late but it’s too late in the game. We could have had one in the first and ran with it.”