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Sabres hang a stinker in their stocking

In the spirit of the season, it's time to let a literary giant put his best words to the performance the Buffalo Sabres foisted upon their unfortunate fans Thursday night.

Borrowing the memorable creed of The Grinch that stole Christmas: "The three words that best describe you are as follows, and I quote: 'Stink. Stank. Stunk.' "

There's not much more that can be said about the heaping pile of trash formed by the Sabres' 3-1 loss to the Carolina Hurricanes in KeyBank Center, a dreary affair that was one of the team's most coal-worthy peformances of the season.

The Sabres fell behind, 2-0, in the first period and never caught up in losing their third straight game. They were outshot, 34-23 -- giving up the first seven shots of the second period and the first eight in the third. The crowd of 18,863 booed en masse after each stanza and during several stages when Buffalo was bottled up in its own end

Buffalo gave up the first goal for the sixth straight game as Jeff Skinner scored for Carolina just 1:44 into the contest, moving into open ice vacated by Dmitry Kulikov. Justin Faulk's goal at 17:51 came on a 3-on-1 break after a turnover by Rasmus Ristolainen and made it 2-0. The Sabres gave up a handful of odd-man rushes in the first period as its defense looked lost at times.

"Today is not acceptable," said goalie Robin Lehner. "You know what, after that first we know we have to do something. I think we all felt pretty embarrassed coming in here."

The biggest subplot to the game, however, was how coach Dan Bylsma kept Jack Eichel off the power play when the Sabres got their first man-advantage on a hooking penalty to Carolina's Noah Hanifin at 2:54 of the first period.

Matt Moulson, whose seven power-play goals entered the night one off the NHL lead, was moved from the second unit on to Eichel's spot at the point of the first. Marcus Foligno went on the second unit. Eichel stayed on the bench for the first opportunity against the NHL's top penalty-killing team.

Eichel takes losing worse than any Sabres player of recent years, along the lines of Ryan Miller and Chris Drury. He was furious in the dressing room after this one, slamming equipment into his duffel bag before a brief meeting with reporters. It's the kind of fire a team needs more of when times are tough.

Eichel has no points and is minus-5 in his last four games. Bylsma admitted to sending both team and star player a message.

"It's not my decision. It's the coach's," Eichel said. "They have a really good PK and we had a lot of good opportunities on the power play. We just need to finish them.

"Obviously, 'Mouls' has had a lot of power-play goals and he's helped our team. Just switching up looks with them the No. 1 PK in the league. Try to keep it a little bit uncertain for them."

Eichel words were politically correct but he was clearly seething. Asked if he was surprised to not be on the ice, the 20-year-old said the time to discuss the topic was over.

"I think I just answered that. I'm not the coach," he said. "Like I said, we had a lot of opportunities on the first power play. ... I was on the second power play. I'm out there working hard. I think that's all I really have to say about that."

Bylsma didn't offer too many specifics on his decision.

"The decision was just something we practiced today and implemented in the game," Bylsma said. "We wanted a certain look, didn't get the result we wanted. He went back on the power play for a different look when we got the second opportunity."

With players across his roster struggling to produce offense and his defensive corps -- notably Dmitry Kulikov -- a trainwreck at times in both the neutral zone and the defensive zone, it seemed odd to send a message with Eichel, the franchise's star player.

What hasn't Bylsma seen from Eichel of late?

"What we need to see is what we saw in the first shift of his game that he had tonight," the coach said. "I thought he had at times tonight for us that speed and electricity with the puck.

Following the morning skate, Bylsma was unusually intense and clearly in gameday mode. The catch-phrase he used several times was about the need for his players to be "emotionally attached." They weren't much of the night. The first period was forgettable and the Hurricanes had the puck for an astonishing 14 minutes, 10 seconds in the second period as the Sabres took four minor penalties but managed to kill them off.

"We handed them opportunities in the game right from the start," Bylsma said.

"We weren't very good in the neutral zone in that first period and that's where they generated all their chances," said defenseman Zach Bogosian. "We have to tighten up in the neutral zone and we'll be all right."

As for any semblance of a playoff race, it's not all right. It's becoming a rumor as far as the Sabres are concerned.

With Toronto's blowout win at Colorado, the Sabres fell back into a tie with Detroit for last place in the Atlantic Division. The Sabres are 10 points out of the last Eastern Conference wild card spot and seven points behind third-place Boston for the final postseason slot in the division.

"It's disappointing for where we're at right now in the season," Bylsma said. "This game should have been a desperation game for us."

The only glimmer of hope the team could hold to was that it was not the final game before the holiday break. The Sabres flew to New York immediately after the game and will meet the New York Islanders Friday night in Brooklyn.

"Another opportunity in less than 24 hours to win two points," Eichel said. "That's what we're focused on."



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