MONTREAL – The problem with a terrible start is it doesn't allow for any leeway. Take Saturday night, for example.
In virtually any other situation, the Buffalo Sabres' latest loss would have been chalked up to running into a hot goaltender. Montreal's Carey Price made a triumphant return after missing 10 games with an injury, stopping all 36 shots he faced to beat Buffalo, 3-0.
The Sabres swarmed him at times. They had 78 shot attempts compared to 52 for the Canadiens. If the Sabres were 10-10-4, they'd simply tip their caps to Price and move on to Tuesday's game against Tampa Bay.
"Their goalie was pretty hot, and he won a game for them," Sabres right wing Jason Pominville said in Bell Centre. "Sometimes you've got to give credit to someone who battled hard and played well."
The Sabres, of course, are not 10-10-4. They fell to 6-14-4, including 1-6-2 in the last nine games. They're the lowest-scoring team in the NHL, and a shutout was added to their résumé.
Playing well is important, but Buffalo needs wins. There's just not a lot of leeway at the moment.
"This isn't a league that's built on moral victories," center Jack Eichel said. "To outplay somebody is not what we're really here to do. We're here to win games."
The Sabres actually had a chance to win. They were down, 2-0, and heading to the power play midway through the third. A goal cracks Price's aura of invincibility and pulls Buffalo within a goal.
Instead, Eichel coughed up the puck. He skated toward the Montreal blue line and dumped it onto the stick of Paul Byron, who scored on the resulting breakaway with 11:33 to play.
Au revoir, Buffalo.
"Obviously, I'd like to have that one back," said Eichel, who had eight shots on goal and another eight that missed the net or were blocked. "I had a lot of chances. I've got to score a couple goals tonight. The chances were there, but I didn't finish."
Ultimately, neither did the Sabres, though Evander Kane might have an argument. It appeared he potted his 13th with 32.5 seconds left, but the video officials overturned it. They cited goaltender interference, but it appeared Price initiated contact with Sam Reinhart outside the crease.
"I have no idea what they were reviewing," Kane said. "I saw the replay on the Jumbotron, and I don't know if I need to go to the eye doctor, but it looked like Sam was outside the crease.
"I don't have anything good to say about that decision, but like I said maybe I'll go to the doctor and get my eyes checked."
Despite the debate, it was merely the difference between a 3-0 loss and a 3-1 loss. It was still a low-scoring night, giving the Sabres one goal or none in eight of their 24 games.
"We've got to figure out a way to score," Kane said. "We played well, but we didn't score. That's the name of the game."
As Eichel said, it's not the time for moral victories. Still, there's no denying there were some.
Buffalo outplayed Montreal despite closing a run of six games in nine nights. The Sabres kept up the pressure despite being down a forward after Jacob Josefson suffered a lower-body injury in the first period.
"The last two games have been some of our best hockey," coach Phil Housley said. "I know the bottom line is winning. … I can't fault the effort. You can say what you want to say, but if we continue to play this way moving forward, we're going to get a lot more wins."
The coach was right. It was a solid effort by the Sabres and would win many nights.
But the Sabres' terrible start doesn't allow for any leeway. It matters little if there's a hot goalie, a bad call by the officials or anything else imaginable.
"Working hard and zone time and shots and being there is not good enough," Eichel said. "You don't get rewarded for getting shots on goal and shot attempts. You get rewarded for goals in the net."