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Even at early stage, Sabres' season slipping away

ST. LOUIS -- The NHL's general managers meetings were held this week in Toronto and you can bet Tim Murray did a lot of talking with his cohorts while he was there.

At this point, Murray has no choice. When Jack Eichel went down last month, Murray said he would watch his Buffalo Sabres closely and pick up the phone if it looked like things aren't working.

Memo to the GM: Things aren't working.

Eichel isn't coming back any time soon and the Sabres need help. Their season is already slipping away because of an offense that looks historically impotent.

Tuesday's 4-1 loss to the St. Louis Blues in Scottrade Center was yet another exhibit for the prosecution of a Buffalo offense that has fast become a punchline in the NHL.

The Sabres are 5-7-4 and have either been shut out or scored just one goal eight times -- exactly half their games. They're 0-3-2 in the last five games, scoring only five goals. They have 30 goals overall, a last-in-the-league average of 1.88. Those are astonishing numbers, injuries or not.

You can say 16 games into an 82-game season is early and you would be right. But when you look at the standings, it's not early. Teams usually don't make the playoffs in October and November but they can sure miss them in the season's first two months.

The standings dont lie: The Sabres are last in the Atlantic Division, 15th in the Eastern Conference and 26th overall in the NHL.

The injuries to scorers like Eichel, Ryan O'Reilly, Evander Kane and Tyler Ennis have certainly damaged the offense, although Ennis had just one goal before he exited the lineup and Kane played his fifth straight game without a goal Tuesday since returning. But the defensemen still don't have a goal and no one could have expected Eichel's absence to completely destroy the team's ability to score.

"We can't get into all that. Looking at who we're missing and what we're without is not what we're about," said captain Brian Gionta. "The guys in this room are more than capable of playing better, scoring more goals and getting better outcomes."

The Sabres opened the scoring on Sam Reinhart's power-play goal at 7:55 of the first period and didn't tally again. They hit four goalposts or crossbars and fell meekly as the Blues snapped a 1-1 tie with two goals in the first 2:19 of the third period. It was the ninth time this year the Sabres have scored first and they've only won four of those games.

Not getting an add-on second goal is killing the Sabres right now. Bad luck is confounding them as well. Johan Larsson hit a crossbar 13 seconds into the third period and Jaden Schwartz had an easy tap-in to give the Blues the lead for good at 44 seconds. Reinhart nearly wiped out in the neutral zone on the play and couldn't catch up to Schwartz after a great rush into the Buffalo zone by Dmitrij Jaskin.

"That's a tough one to let go in the first couple minutes of the third, especially with that crossbar," Reinhart said. "We were still in that game, still plenty of time left. For whatever reason, we're not capitalizing on chances and we have to get better with that.

"I kind of fell over in the neutral zone and went on a bad side of their guy. He got a break. I don't know what happened for a second and then I look up and that's a tough race for me to lose."

Coach Dan Bylsma has no answers either. It's a situation unlike any he's dealt with in his NHL career.

"We're strapped for goals. We're strapped for opportunities to get the goals," said Bylsma. "It's not for lack of effort. Guys are throwing it out there and giving it everything they've got. You feel like at this time we need a fluke or to fight more for that odd goal to break us out."

And while effort may be there for the Sabres, aptitude has not been. The team took its fourth too many men on the ice penalty of the season and gave up a power-play goal nine seconds later as Robby Fabbri got the Blues even at 1-1 at 10:58 of the first period. Buffalo never got a lead back.

"It was bang-bang there in the third period to give them goals two and three," Bylsma said. "Unfortunately in this game, we get the power-play goal but we give them an opportunity with the penalty we take and the lead dissipates with that mistake."

Just like the season is fast dissipating, with Tampa Bay and Pittsburgh coming into town next. The salary cap can handcuff Murray, like any GM. But one thing is getting clear for the Sabres: Doing nothing doesn't seem to be an option.

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