Assertiveness is rewarded in the NHL. In fact, it’s rewarded in an astounding way.
In the first 592 games of the season, the team that scored first was 423-115-54. That’s a .715 winning percentage and .760 points percentage.
The Sabres are not good at scoring first. That leads to not being good.
Buffalo lost its fifth straight game Tuesday night with a 5-1 setback to Florida. The Panthers scored the opening goal, making it 25 times in 40 games that the Sabres fell behind. They dropped to 6-15-4 in those games.
“I don’t think we were focused enough to start, and that killed us,” center Ryan O’Reilly said. “We have to establish our game right away, and we didn’t.
“I’m embarrassed right now. This is not what we want. This is not the way we want to play. We owe it to our fans especially to show up out there, and we didn’t.”
The fans filed out of First Niagara Center during the third period as the game got away from the Sabres. Florida scored three times in the final 15 minutes to turn a 2-1 game into a rout, but the start is what did Buffalo in against a division-leading team that’s won 10 straight.
“We were flat coming out,” defenseman Jake McCabe said. “They jumped all over us. We were sloppy, and that was the difference in the game. It’s how we started the game, and you can’t come back after you’re sloppy and have bad habits.”
O’Reilly, who scored the lone goal with a nice assist from Jack Eichel, joined coach Dan Bylsma in taking blame for the poor start.
“We weren’t detailed enough and playing with the intensity we needed,” O’Reilly said. “I’m responsible for that. I’m supposed to be a leader here. I have to be accountable for everyone here. We have to find that spark early just to give us life.”
Said Bylsma: “That’s my job as a coach to get them ready to play in those situations, ready to play that game, and I don’t think we were.”
As the above winning percentage shows, playing with the lead makes the game easier. In addition to falling behind, the Sabres rarely regain the lead.
Dating back to the game against Chicago on Dec. 19, the Sabres have played 425 minutes and led for just 31:33. They were ahead of the Blackhawks for 2:46 during a 3-2 shootout loss. They led Boston for 6:12 in a 6-3 victory and were ahead of Washington for 22:35 in a 5-2 loss.
They never led against Florida, Detroit, the New York Islanders or during their first game with Washington.
“It’d be nice to come back in the dressing room after the first period with a 3-0 lead, but right now all we want is just to score first,” McCabe said. “That’s just a mindset we’ve got to improve on and keep working toward it.”
Teams that start slow need to finish strong, and resiliency has been one of the Sabres’ better traits. It was lacking Tuesday as the weight of the losing streak set in.
“I don’t think our pushback was there in the third period,” Bylsma said. “They got that third goal, and I thought we really sagged after that.”
The third goal came when members of Florida’s fourth line won a puck battle behind the Buffalo net and got open in front.
“We’re beating ourselves with a lot of the mistakes that we’re making,” Sabres defenseman Carlo Colaiacovo said. “It’s a sign of a team in transition, of a young team. We can’t sit here and make excuses and feel sorry for ourselves. It’s hard to be a winning team in this league. It’s hard to win games. That’s the realization that we have to come to.”