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Sabres searching for answers after 'alarming' 7-2 loss to Oilers

EDMONTON – Marco Scandella broke his stick in half over the left post of the Buffalo Sabres' net and skated slowly back to the visitors' bench in Rogers Place.

That display of raw emotion, and his egregious mistake that led to Milan Lucic's second-period goal moments earlier, powerfully illustrated the state of the Sabres following an ugly 7-2 loss to the Edmonton Oilers on Monday night.

The Sabres, now 23-17-6, have won only six of their last 21 games and are two points back of the second wild-card spot.

The bad habits that have followed them since opening night snowballed in what center Evan Rodrigues called an "eye opener." Buffalo outshot the Oilers, 43-25, however, the Sabres continue to give up too many scoring chances.

"We have to focus on what we can control," coach Phil Housley said. "Obviously this game was quite alarming – the things that happened out there – but we can’t focus on them or control what just happened. We can learn from it and we can work on what we need to improve tomorrow."

The list will be long. On one hand, the Sabres started fast on the road when Casey Mittelstadt deflected Conor Sheary's shot past Mikko Koskinen for a 1-0 lead only one minute into the game. They applied pressure in the offensive zone throughout the night with 72 shot attempts, and three players had at least five shots on goal, including Jeff Skinner's team-high seven.

They made life difficult for Koskinen, who was outstanding following Mittelstadt's goal. Rodrigues chipped in some secondary scoring when his wrist shot from the slot cut the deficit to two goals at 8:57 into the first.

On the other hand, the Oilers (22-21-3) made the Sabres pay for poor play with and without the puck.

"It just seems like our mistakes right now every single one ends up in our net," center Jack Eichel said. "Obviously you know you’re going to make mistakes over the course of a game, but it seems like the magnitude of our mistakes right now is probably too big."

Edmonton, which has recorded at least 30 shots on goal only once in its past 16 games, scored three goals in 1:55 during the first period. Former Sabres first-round draft pick Zack Kassian and Lucic each had two goals after both had two all season.

Kassian scored first for Edmonton when his shot was deflected by Buffalo defenseman Zach Bogosian, and Ryan Nugent-Hopkins made it 2-1 when he deflected another shot past Carter Hutton at 3:23. Kassian then scored his second of the game on a 2-on-1 odd-man rush after Sabres defenseman Nathan Beaulieu seemed confused by defensive-zone coverage.

Connor McDavid's 28th goal of the season came 24 seconds into the second period after Rasmus Ristolainen turned the puck over at his own blue line, giving the Oilers another three-goal lead. Less than five minutes later, Scandella gave the puck to Lucic in the defensive zone, allowing Lucic to skate to the slot and fire a wrist shot over Hutton's blocker.

Hutton was pulled after allowing five goals on 12 shots, and Linus Ullmark allowed two goals on 13 shots.

"You come together," Rodrigues said. "Maybe this is one of those games that gives you a little bit of an eye opener. You’re not going to be perfect all year. We haven’t been as of late and this is one that you almost want to forget about. … It’s obviously a tough one."

Lucic scored his second goal during another 2-on-1 odd-man rush in the third – the result of Jake McCabe getting caught deep in the offensive zone – and Leon Draisaitl made it a five-goal game when he scored on the power play with 14:44 remaining in regulation.

It was the most goals allowed by the Sabres since a 7-5 loss to Tampa Bay on April 6, 2018. Entering the game, Edmonton had a negative-18 goal differential and was tied for the third-most goals allowed in the NHL.

Buffalo hasn't been much better since its 10-game winning streak ended. The Sabres have a negative-15 goal differential since Nov. 29 and have three wins in their last eight games.

"We have a lot of hockey left in this season, and I know we’re going through a rough patch right now," Eichel said. "It seems like earlier in the year we were going through a patch where everything was going our way and now everything is going the opposite way. At this point, we have to stick together and find a way out of it."

Secondary scoring is no longer the Sabres' greatest concern. They are not playing a tight-checking game, giving opponents too much time and space in the offensive zone. Even the NHL's weakest teams have the talent to take advantage of such mistakes, yet this continues a season-long trend for Housley's team.

The Sabres have allowed the sixth-most shots per game and the ninth-most high-danger scoring chances, according to Housley has tried to remedy the problem by changing personnel – defenseman Lawrence Pilut was scratched Monday in favor of Beaulieu – and pairings.

Only two games and two practices remain until the extended All-Star break – Wednesday in Calgary and Friday in Vancouver. Housley did not offer specifics postgame, but he circled back to his desire for more "urgency" with the puck and better play without it.

"We have to go back to work," Housley said. "We have to work on the things that are going to make us better and that starts tomorrow in practice."

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