LOS ANGELES -- It was a tie game inside the final three minutes. A real chance for the Buffalo Sabres' first win of the season was at hand but they blinked at crunch time Saturday in Staples Center.
Both on the ice and behind the bench.
Drew Doughty's power-play goal with exactly two minutes left capped a horrible few seconds for the Sabres, snapping a 2-2 game and sending the Los Angeles Kings past Buffalo, 4-2.
The winning goal was really a three-pronged issue.
** The first problem was the penalty, an offensive zone trip by Evander Kane on Dustin Brown with 2:04 left. Tough play, terrible time.
"Obviously, no excuse for that one," Kane said. "I wasn't trying to trip him. I was trying to make a play on the puck. Regardless of that, I can't take that penalty at that time of the game."
"It's unfortunate," said coach Phil Housley. "He's going for a puck and his stick gets tangled up. That's when our penalty kill has got to dig in, win a draw, tie a draw and just try to get the job done."
** The second problem was Housley acting like a rookie head coach for the really the first time this season. Ryan O'Reilly was 14-4 on faceoffs to that point in the game but wasn't on the ice at its defining moment. Instead, Housley had Jacob Josefson take the draw and he was promptly smoked in the circle by Jeff Carter.
The pairing of Josefson and Benoit Pouliot to kill the penalty was a dubious choice at best. No O'Reilly. No Jason Pominville. Or Jack Eichel. Or Johan Larsson or Zemgus Girgensons. Among other choices.
Josefson lost the draw, while Pouliot didn't get to the point fast enough and ole'd a potential shot block of Doughty's one-timer.
"'Joey' has been pretty good on draws," Housley insisted on Josefson, who entered the game at 44 percent and was 4-2 on the night heading into the key faceoff. "Right now they're our two top penalty killers. Could we have done a better job getting in the shot lane? Yes.
"But at the same time, that shot was taken from Doughty and there was no one in front of our goaltender. You're going to lose draws on the penalty kill. We don't want to lose it clean but those are the breaks right now."
Off the draw, the puck went to Anze Kopitar, who got it back to Alec Martinez at the right point. Over it went to Doughty on the left point for the slapshot that dropped the Sabres to 0-4-1 and pushed the Kings to 3-0-1.
That's a quartet of Stanley Cup champions schooling a couple of retreads manning the Buffalo penalty kill.
** Problem No. 3 was goaltender Robin Lehner, who was having a good night with 26 saves. He had a clear view but didn't make the save when his team needed it.
"That last one totally dove on me, a hard knuckler that was going mid-net and just dove last second," Lehner said. "Of course I want to have that but it's what it is. It was going to go in my glove and it dove and then it didn't go in my glove.
"It's just how it's bouncing right now. I see a lot of shots each season and maybe once every thousand shots it dives on you. Usually it doesn't dive but that's what it is."
The Sabres went 0 for 3 on the penalty kill in the game while the Kings were perfect on the power play, going 3 for 3 after entering the contest 0 for 16. Buffalo had killed off 13 of 14 penalties. Form certainly didn't hold.
"It's tough," said Jack Eichel. "Last two minutes of a game. You'd like to be on the other side of that."
Eichel had a goal and an assist in this one, pulling Buffalo into a 2-2 tie at 9:06 of the third, just under two minutes after his ticky-tack interference penalty that should have been a hold on Dustin Brown led to Tyler Toffoli's go-ahead goal at 7:09.
"I thought the penalty was going on them," Eichel said. "Just trying to backcheck a little bit and he grabbed my arm. Apparently the ref must have thought different. It's tough in that situation. It's a fast game. He sees one thing from the back."
The Sabres have no time to feel sorry for themselves. They're halfway through this four-game trip, facing a back-to-back Sunday night in Anaheim.
"We've got a game tomorrow and we kind of have to try to cut the chord here," Kane said. "Not have this linger over tomorrow night."
"It stinks," Lehner said flatly. "But we've just got to move right on."