If there was an opportunity for the Buffalo Sabres to break out of their scoring drought, this would have been the night to do it.
The Sabres were facing Tristan Jarry, the backup goaltender for the Pittsburgh Penguins who was playing just his sixth NHL game. There was an opening to pepper the young goalie with shots and force him to make uncomfortable plays. There was an opening to finally score some goals.
But they didn't.
Instead, the Sabres were shut out for the third straight game — a first in franchise history — in a 4-0 loss to the Penguins in KeyBank Center on Friday night. They have now gone 180 minutes and 51 seconds without a goal.
In the first shutout, a 3-0 loss to Montreal, it was Carey Price who blanked the Sabres. In the 2-0 loss to Tampa Bay, it was Andrei Vasilevskiy, who has the most wins and second highest save percentage in the league.
Against Pittsburgh, it was Jarry, who recorded his first NHL shutout after spending all of last season with Wilkes-Barre/Scranton of the American Hockey League.
"It's quite embarrassing," Sabres coach Phil Housley said. "Our coaching staff comes up with a game plan and I just don't think we're executing our game plan. Obviously we go into Montreal and we're up against a good goaltender. Vasilevskiy is one of the best goaltenders in the league but in playing a backup goaltender, I didn't think we took advantage of that tonight. We came close but you can't give a good team like that two goals to start the game. They're going to lock that in. You saw today that even though we had some fight in the third period. But the bottom line it is embarrassing."
The Sabres' woes started early as Tom Kuhnhackl earned a penalty shot when he was hooked by Victor Antipin on a breakaway. Kuhnhackl scored on Robin Lehner for a 1-0 lead 3:23 into the game. Then came a goal from Sidney Crosby, who promptly in the puck after Rasmus Ristolainen gifted him the puck in front of Lehner.
Not even seven minutes into the game and the Sabres were down 2-0. For a team that's been unable to find a scoring touch, that has all the feeling of an insurmountable deficit.
"Quite honest, I think the message has been great," Lehner said. "I think what's drawn up or what we're told to do, it's nothing wrong with that. It's up to us in here. It's only up to us. Last year was up to us. The year before was up to us, too. To put the problem in other places, which is normal in sports, you kinda put it on coaches or goalies, whatever, it's just nature of the game, but it's not the problem.
"It's each and every one of us in here doing what we're told on a consistent basis. We let in goals when we're not doing what we're told. We're not scoring goals because we're not doing what we're told. It's as simple as that."
Not scoring goals has been the focus of the Sabres frustrations. Friday they fired 34 shots on goal, but only one on four power plays. Few came with players in front. And any big rebounds given up by Jarry, well, they were promptly swept away by an alert and fast Pittsburgh defense.
"Three games now with no goals. We've just to be hungrier," said Kyle Okposo, who scored the last Sabres goal at 19:01 of the third period in a 3-1 win over Edmonton on Nov. 24. "We've got to be harder to play against at home and that just wasn't acceptable tonight."
"Not acceptable" has become a catch phrase in the Sabres dressing room this year. So too has the sentence, "I've got to be better."
No one is more self critical than Ryan O'Reilly, who continues to put the onus on himself.
"I'd say I had three or four point blank great scoring chances, I didn't bury them," said O'Reilly, who had several good chances in the middle of the second period. "I feel it's a little hesitation. I've got to get it off quicker. I've got to find that confidence in there. I’m much better than that. It kills us. It's something that can spark us and it doesn't. It's my fault. I've got to find a way to do something."
What about the other 11 forwards in the room? Or the defense which is the only blueline unit in the NHL without a goal this season?
"I can't control what anyone else does," O'Reilly said. "I can influence and I can do my part but I'm not setting a good enough example for guys. I can't look at anyone else to change. I've got to change. I don't know what else to say."