OTTAWA – As a whole, the Buffalo Sabres probably didn’t get their just reward after a strong performance here Tuesday night. But a key takeaway from their 2-1 shootout loss to the Ottawa Senators was that Matt Moulson did.
The veteran winger snapped his ugly, 44-game drought with his first goal since Nov. 1 by sliding a backhand between the legs of Ottawa’s Craig Anderson at 6:01 of the first period.
Moulson lifted his arms in celebration but seemed to be releasing his relief more than anything. The goal came on a nifty back pass from Jack Eichel, who stopped on a dime and bolted to his housemate when the puck entered the net.
“It’s great to see him get rewarded,” Eichel said. “I’m just happy he scored. It’s been a while. He’s been in a slump and he seems like everybody is jumping on him and giving him a hard time. People go through things like this. He’s been doing a lot of great things and I’ve enjoyed playing with him.
“Massive for him,” a smiling coach Dan Bylsma said of Moulson.
Bylsma put Moulson back on Eichel’s line, moving Justin Bailey down to the fourth line, and Moulson responded with his fifth goal of the season.
Moulson, a three-time 30-goal scorer with the New York Islanders, downplayed suggestions he may have felt he was simply not going to score again this season.
“I’ve put in a lot of work lately just trying to make sure I’m getting better each day,” Moulson said. “It was a great play by Jack on that one. I thought he played a great game today, was really skating and making some good plays. We probably should have had a couple more out there.”
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The goal came as Eichel used plenty of ice in the neutral zone and curled to his right to finally gain the Ottawa zone. Jake McCabe kept the puck in the zone and got it in deep to Eichel, who grabbed it and fed Moulson in the slot.
“I just tried to use my speed and drive wide,” Eichel said. “’Caber’ gets a shot toward the net and it lands on my stick. I saw Matty going to the net and I tried to put it in an area where he could get it. He was able to corral it on the backhand.”
Moulson has been around the net more of late and said he was happy to get another chance on a line with Eichel and Zemgus Girgensons. Moulson is housing the 19-year-old Eichel for the season in his Amherst home and admitted the slump has been difficult.
“He’s been around the house through the whole time,” Moulson said of Eichel. “It was a great play by him and I was happy to get that one out of the way and hopefully many more to come. He’s a great kid, always brings good energy to the rink. Away from the rink, we’ve become great friends the past few months.”
The Sabres outshot Ottawa, 39-26, and gave the Sens few good scoring chances. A notable one came in overtime when Robin Lehner speared an Erik Karlsson laser with the glove. Buffalo’s best chance in the OT came when Eichel was stopped by Anderson on a breakaway with 15 seconds left. Eichel and Moulson were then stopped in the shootout, with Eichel firing wide after deking Anderson out of position.
“We did a lot of really good things and I think this one falls on me,” Eichel said. “I have a breakaway in overtime. If I want to be the player I want to be, that’s got to go in the back of the net. Then I get a chance in the shootout and not being able to finish there is real disappointing.”
Eichel tried to beat Anderson between the legs in overtime but the Ottawa veteran beat him by closing the opening.
“Credit to him that he makes a good save,” Eichel said. “That’s not good enough for me.”
The shootout was over quickly as Bobby Ryan and Kyle Turris scored for Ottawa. The Sabres fell to 1-5 in shootouts this season - and their shooters are just 2 for 19. Buffalo has missed 14 straight.
“We practice it enough,” Moulson said. “We probably should have a couple more than that.”
“I don’t think you wholesale the farm to avoid getting to a shootout,” Bylsma said. “We’re trying to win it in overtime and we get ourselves a breakaway. ... We’re pressing to get goals, not because of the shootout situation. But we want to win the hockey game.”