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With offense mostly silent, Johnson's lone mistake is costly as Sabres fall to Blackhawks

CHICAGO -- It's a recurring theme these days for the Buffalo Sabres.

The offense doesn't do much and it puts undue pressure on the defense and goaltending. With the team in a hideous funk offensively, its margin for error is razor-thin at the other end of the ice. A bad goal against is curtains.

It happened to goaltender Chad Johnson Saturday against Detroit, when he gave up a snapshot to Tomas Tatar with 2:50 left in a tie game and the Sabres fell, 4-3. Friday night in the United Center, Johnson endured a similar fate.

The Buffalo goaltender made 42 saves and, frankly, was the only reason the Sabres were still alive against the defending Stanley Cup champion Chicago Blackhawks. But Johnson was baffled by Phillip Danault's short-side tally with 4:59 left that snapped a 1-1 tie and the Hawks went on to extend Buffalo's frustration with a 3-1 win.

The Sabres have lost six in a row, scoring just eight goals in those games. They are 15-22-4 at the halfway mark of the NHL schedule and their 34 points are just three ahead of last year's halfway total of 31 that was forged with a 14-24-3 record.

Ryan O'Reilly scored Buffalo's only goal Friday, pulling the Sabres into a 1-1 tie off a Jamie McGinn feed with 8:23 to play. It was O'Reilly's team-high 17th of the season. O'Reilly and rookie Jack Eichel have combined to score 10 of the Sabres' last 15 goals -- and at least one of them have been on the ice for the team's last 17 goals dating to Dec. 17.

"It's frustrating. We have to get on the board early," O'Reilly said. "It's too late to create offense that late in the game and expect to win one. Myself and the rest of the forwards, we have to find a way to generate offense and actually get results early in the game to generate some momentum and confidence."

There's simply not much confidence right now on a Buffalo club that has lost all 15 of its January games in regulation over the last two seasons. Evander Kane had seven more shot attempts, hitting the goalpost on one first-period break, and has six straight scoreless games. He has just two goals in the last 15 games.

Kane is not alone. Brian Gionta and Sam Reinhart each have one goal in the last 13 games, David Legwand had none in 17, Zemgus Girgensons has one in 16 and Marcus Foligno has one in 21. Veteran Matt Moulson played a season-low 7:06, had one shot on goal and posted his 28th straight game without scoring.

"We're all a little bit snakebit right now," said coach Dan Bylsma. "We need to bear down. You've got to come up with some goals from some places."

And when your offense isn't scoring, Johnson can't whiff on a shot like Danault's winner, the first career NHL goal for Chicago's No. 1 pick in 2011.

Rasmus Ristolainen backed in on the play but still drove Danault wide through the left circle. Danault fired and Johnson was down a little early. The puck ticked off the post and snuck under the crossbar, beating Johnson on the short side and proving to be the dagger to the Sabres' hopes.

"Where the puck's at, where the shot's coming from, I'm disappointed to see that go by him," said Bylsma. "I'm sure Chad feels the same way."

A clearly frustrated Johnson, who was stellar in stopping all 19 shots he faced in the second period, wasn't offering much analysis of the play.

"I don't know. I don't have any answers for you," Johnson said.

Asked if it felt like a sort of deja vu from the Detroit game, Johnson refused to go down that road.

"No. Doesn't feel like that at all," he said.

So how does it feel?

"Disappointing," Johnson said. "We're right there."

Bylsma, however, agreed with the notion the loss had the same feeling as the gut-punch against the Red Wings.

"It feels a lot like that," Bylsma said. "I thought we stayed the course with the game. We got down but stayed with it the whole game long. We battled back, get a great play, a great goal to tie the game. ... It feels like you give it right back with that goal."

email: mharrington@buffnews.com

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