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Gooooooooooal! End of drought is tiny silver lining in latest Sabres clunker

PITTSBURGH -- No truth to the rumor Sabres coach Phil Housley let out one of those soccer announcer-style "GOOOOOOOOOOAL" bellows here late Saturday night. Maybe he should have to get his team to release all its tension after it finally snapped its franchise-record drought just shy of enduring a fourth straight shutout.

This offense is leaving Housley & Co. no hope. Pretty simple scenario for what's now the NHL's worst team.

The Sabres were less than nine minutes away from going fourth on the shutout scale before Jason Pominville scored off a Jack Eichel feed with 8:42 left in the third period of a 5-1 loss to the Pittsburgh Penguins.

That was all the offense the Sabres could muster in PPG Paints Arena. The league's lowest-scoring team is now its worst in the standings as well after Arizona passed the Sabres with a 5-1 win over New Jersey.

At 6-17-4, the Sabres are playing at a 49-point pace. They totaled 52 and 54 points, respectively, in 2013-14 and 2014-15, the two years ownership green-lighted management to build them to lose to secure high draft picks.

This season is hardly by design. But an historic goal drought has killed the Sabres' hopes of doing anything.

The power play went 0 for 4 in this one, slipping to a 0 for 26 in the last nine games. That's a big reason why the Sabres set a franchise record of 232 minutes, 9 seconds without a single goal. More than 111 minutes of that frustration was spent the last two nights against Pittsburgh rookie goalie Tristan Jarry, who stopped 66 of 67 shots in the home-and-home set.

Pominville's goal was his seventh of the season -- and first in 14 games. It brought Buffalo within 3-1 before Pittsburgh put the game away on goals by Phil Kessel and Sidney Crosby, the latter into an emtpy net.

"Hopefully mentally it feels good for the team to get one and not have to talk about this for a little while," Pominville said. "But we still have work to do. We've got to be better. That was a step but there's still a few more steps we need to take."

The Wraparound: Penguins 5, Sabres 1

The Chicago Blackhawks were the last team to endure three straight shutouts, in October of 2006. According to Elias Sports, their drought of 240:56 was the fifth-longest in the NHL's modern era (since the introduction of the center red line in 1943).

The Hawks also hold the all-time record for consecutive shutouts against (8) and time without a goal (581:42), both set in 1929.

"You go three games without scoring, it's difficult," said Housley. "You're squeezing your sticks. It's very hard mentally. It can be tough. It was good to see that one go in."

With scoring is at its highest level in the NHL since the 2005-2006 season, the Sabres are averaging a scant 2.07 goals per game. In 27 games, they've scored only 56 goals -- nine fewer than any other team -- and are on pace for only 170, which would beat only the tank seasons in franchise annals.

Eichel admitted there's no way he could conceive a team he's on having such a streak without any scoring.

"It's tough to score goals in this league and you start gripping your stick a little bit, thinking, maybe fine-tuning it a little bit," said Eichel, who has three goals in his last 18 games. "I'm guilty of it recently, fine-tuning my shots too much instead of getting pucks to the net and seeing what will happen."

While Buffalo's top forwards like Pominville, Eichel, Evander Kane, Kyle Okposo, Sam Reinhart and Ryan O'Reilly all continuing to struggle, the Penguins' stars were dominant.

Evgeni Malkin, Sidney Crosby and Kris Letang all had two points, with Malkin pouring eight shots on goal at the Buffalo net. Crosby has a six-game point streak, totaling 13 points, and has scored a goal in five straight games. Crosby's career totals against the Sabres include 19 goals, 38 assists and 57 points in just 37 games.

"You're playing the Stanley Cup champions, give them a couple power plays, make their top guys feel good about their game and they capitalize," Pominville said. "They obviously have guys that can make plays when you give them that time and space. They made us pay tonight."

The Sabres had some life in this game, with 33 shots on goal, 63 shot attempts and 33 hits. Their game had an edge that was missing during Friday's 4-0 snoozer in KeyBank Center, notably when Zach Bogosian took on Pittsburgh tough guy Ryan Reaves to answer a hit on Jake McCabe.

But there were several close calls that never got turned into goals, including a Kane breakaway in the second period and a shot by Rasmus Ristolainen in the same frame that careened off the goal post.

"We're probably not coming down and getting a highlight-reel goal right now," said Bogosian, part of the NHL's only defense corps without a goal. "We're going to have to grind it out as a five-man unit crashing the net and getting in front of the goaltender's eyes."

"Our better players have to be our best players," Housley said. "And right now, they're having a tough time."

Mike Harrington: There's no end in sight for this embarrassment

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