The Buffalo Sabres' offense is back in a major funk, just above the historic ineptitude it showed around Thanksgiving.
Enduring their second shutout defeat of the week, the Sabres got 35 shots on Montreal backup Antti Niemi but were blanked by the Habs, 3-0, Friday night in KeyBank Center. Artturi Lehkonen's second-period goal stood up, allowing Montreal to break its four-game losing streak. Former Sabre Paul Byron hit the empty net with 1:15 left and Brandon Gallagher added another with 43.3 seconds to go.
The Sabres completed their six-game homestand with a 1-4-1 record -- and scored just one goal in losing the final three games. It's reminiscent of a stretch earlier in the season that saw Buffalo get shut out three straight times for the first time in franchise history. That run opened Nov. 25 with a 3-0 loss in Montreal and continued with home losses against Tampa Bay (3-0) and Pittsburgh (4-0).
The Sabres finished 0-2-2 this season against Montreal, suffering their first season sweep at the hands of the Habs since going 0-4 in 2013-14.
Key moment: The Sabres had a two-man advantage for 66 seconds in the third period and failed to score -- even though Montreal came into the game last in the NHL in penalty killing overall (74.7 percent) and on the road (66.7 percent). Niemi made saves on Jack Eichel and Rasmus Ristolainen but the big miss was by Ryan O'Reilly, who fanned with a wide-open net to the goalie's left after a slick pass from Kyle Okposo.
"We definitely beat ourselves tonight," O'Reilly said. "They didn’t do anything special. ...It’s almost embarrassing. I had a chance there and missed it. It's disappointing. It was right there. I had a couple chances to tap pucks in and didn't. Those were the sparks we needed."
Mic drop: Coach Phil Housley's post-game news conference lasted just 90 seconds. No other questions were needed after Housley ripped his power play and clearly singled out Eichel for going solo during the two-man advantage.
"I think it's about time our leadership group stood up now," Housley said. "I challenged them yesterday and it definitely wasn't the response I was looking for. Lack of execution, lack of sticking with the game plan as far as what we're looking for on the 5-on-3. Some guys like to put things in their own hands and think that's gonna work. Well, it hasn't."
No home cooking: The Sabres continue to be the NHL's worst home team at 11-23-5 -- and have endured six of their seven shutouts this season downtown. They've lost back-to-back here to the NHL's two worst road teams in Arizona (10-18-7) and Montreal (10-24-4). The Habs were 0-5-2 in their previous seven road games and 1-11-3 in their previous 15.
In the nets: Niemi posted his first shutout with Montreal and his first in 83 games, since a 4-0 win over Chicago for the Dallas Stars on Dec. 22, 2015. Linus Ullmark made 21 saves for the Sabres. Robin Lehner served as the backup. Chad Johnson, who left Wednesday's loss to Arizona after taking a puck to the head but did not get a concussion, skated in the morning but remains day to day.
Fast start: The Sabres had nine of the game's first 10 shots on goal and outshot Montreal, 11-6, in a scoreless first period. The Habs had just five shot attempts over the first 14 1/2 minutes and barely challenged Ullmark at all.
"We had the start we wanted," Housley said. "That's the response I was looking for. We came out and played a really solid first period, stuck with the game plan and got pucks to the net. We hit a crossbar and that's just where we're at right now as far as scoring."
Breaking the ice: Montreal took the lead at 4:56 of the second period as Lehkonen scored his 10th goal of the season by taking a rebound off the back boards and stuffing it behind Ullmark. Ristolainen was caught in no-man's land on the play, unable to get to the puck or to Lehkonen in front.
No Bailey: Forward Justin Bailey was a surprise healthy scratch after getting a chance to play on Eichel's line Wednesday against Arizona. Bailey had played in five straight games since being recalled from Rochester, scoring once. He had three shots in 11:32 against Arizona.
"Just changes," Housley said prior to the game. "We've lost the last two games in a row. I think he's playing hard, he's playing physical, but we haven't won in the last two games."
No Friday fun: This was only the seventh Friday home game of the season, a radical departure from what used to be Buffalo's prime home date. The Sabres had not hosted a Friday game since their Dec. 22 win over Philadelphia.
Counting the House: The Sabres announced 18,594 tickets were sold. Many of the folks were dressed in red (wearing Canadiens jerseys) or dark blue (disguised as an empty seat).
Anniversary of big trade: Friday was the 19th anniversary of the Sabres sending defenseman Mike Wilson to Florida for popular blueliner Rhett Warrener and a fifth-round draft pick that June. Who did the pick turn into? Longtime Buffalo goalie Ryan Miller, then of Michigan State.
Up next: The Sabres hustled to the airport after the game for the flight to New York, where they will open a two-game road trip against the Rangers Saturday night in Madison Square Garden. They play Monday in Toronto against the Maple Leafs, who host Detroit Saturday in Air Canada Centre. Toronto enters that game holding a franchise-record 12-game winning streak at home.