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Sabres again taken to school in Mittelstadt's debut

Whatever classes Casey Mittelstadt took at the University of Minnesota, none could prepare him for a crash course in Buffalo Sabres 101.

Ryan O'Reilly admitted the Sabres are the worst team in the NHL. Jack Eichel was frustrated by Buffalo's never-ending tendency to slack off. Robin Lehner left with an injury. The Sabres watched an early 2-0 lead go up in flames in a 6-3 loss to Detroit.

Yup, just another Thursday night at Sabres University.

At least the fans in KeyBank Center got to see Mittelstadt record an assist in his NHL debut.

"It's cool to have people excited that I'm here," Mittelstadt said of the cheers that followed him all night. "I'm excited to be here, too."

The Sabres' chore in the final five games is to not beat the youthful exuberance out of the 19-year-old. It'll be tough.

There was a nice buzz downtown after Eichel and O'Reilly combined to give Buffalo a 2-0 lead with only 7:11 gone. Detroit scored 30 seconds later, tied it on a short-handed goal and took advantage of the Sabres' usual coverage and passing miscues to run away with the game.

"It's frustrating," Eichel told The Buffalo News. "We think we can take shifts off. We think we can take plays off. We don't think every play matters, and it does.

"It all adds up at the end of the game. We continue to make similar mistakes and sleep through shifts, sleep through periods, and all of a sudden it's 6-3. It's frustrating."

Buffalo fell to 1-5 in the last six games, losing to a team that was mired in a 2-12-1 slump. The last-place Sabres remained stuck at 65 points, five fewer than Vancouver, Arizona and Ottawa.

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O'Reilly referenced the plight of the woebegone franchise in response to a question about Mittelstadt, who hadn't played since finishing his freshman year at Minnesota on March 3.

"He played great," O'Reilly said. "It's a tough thing to do, taking that time off and jumping right into it.

"Obviously, coming to the worst team in the league, too, a team that's struggling all year and not making a lot happen, he definitely stepped up and did. It was nice to see and good for him. It was nice to see him get on the board."

Mittelstadt took home a souvenir puck after recording an assist on a third-period goal that pulled Buffalo within 4-3. He won a faceoff to Evan Rodrigues, who quickly beat Detroit goaltender Jimmy Howard.

"It's something you dream about," Mittelstadt said of his first NHL point. "It's pretty exciting. I think it's a burden off. You kind of want to get rid of the first point and then kind of go from there, so it was definitely exciting. I'm sure my parents were excited. It was definitely cool."

The first-round pick skated 12:53 in his debut, taking one shot and blocking one. He won five of his eight faceoffs and was minus-1.

"He was good," Eichel said. "He showed his speed. I thought he made nice plays. He was good in traffic. He was good on the dot. He won some big faceoffs for us.

"It's good to see that he's fitting in and he's making plays. He's playing his game. Obviously, want to see him continue to get better and be the player that he wants to be and be a big part of this team."

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The Sabres welcomed Mittelstadt with a hockey tradition. They let him lead the team onto the ice for pregame warmups, but all the other players stayed in the tunnel. Mittelstadt skated a couple of laps alone before everyone else joined him.

"I'd seen so many people do it, when they told me I was going first I was pretty much expecting it," Mittelstadt said. "I was laughing. It was funny. Obviously, it's something you'll look back on and laugh at."

Laughs have been few and far between this season. Lehner likely wasn't smiling after playing the opening two periods and failing to come out for the third because of injury. Coach Phil Housley had no update on the goalie's status.

Once again, the Sabres' status was obvious. They're the 31st-place team in a 31-team league.

"You're not going to win hockey games playing like we did," Eichel said. "We got away from our game. The intensity sometimes is below par. We let our foot off the gas, and all of a sudden they scored six goals.

"There were some good things, but consistently shift in and shift out, I thought it wasn't really where we wanted it to be. Every play matters. Every pass, every shot, it all goes into winning hockey. Maybe there were times where we took shifts off or took plays off and let our foot off the gas. Whether it's mental or errors with the puck, it's what cost us.

"You're not going to win a hockey game with the errors that we made there."

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