Say this for the Buffalo Sabres: It's certainly not boring being around them this season.
Thursday night's wild 6-5 overtime loss to the Carolina Hurricanes in KeyBank Center was plenty entertaining if you didn't have a horse in the race. The Sabres twice overcame two-goal deficits, getting the game to overtime with 55.4 seconds left on Jeff Skinner's second goal of the night against his old team.
But they lost it when Jack Eichel fired way wide of the net and the puck boomeranged to Teuvo Teravainen, who deked Linus Ullmark to the ice on a breakaway and easily tucked home the game-winning goal with 1:35 left in OT.
The Sabres fell four points behind Pittsburgh in the wild-card race and are a point behind Carolina. They have now given up 17 goals while going 1-1-1 in the first three games of their seven-game homestand.
You have to avert your eyes at the way the Sabres are playing defense of late, with opposing players waltzing to the doorstep with no fear of reprisal. Then you had to raise your eyebrows at what was coming out of the dressing room and its environs after this one.
Sam Reinhart, who was perhaps the Sabres' most consistently dangerous forward, spoke a tad out of turn about this particular game – but said what's gone unsaid after most games the last two months.
"Too many mistakes. We can't expect to win hockey games, 6-5, 7-6," Reinhart said. "We need more from our goalies and we need it from the start of hockey games. It's frustrating."
(For the record, five of the six Carolina goals were on the doorstep but the fact remains Ullmark gave up six goals on 30 shots. And the Sabres haven't gotten nearly enough saves in giving up four goals or more eight times in the last 10 games.)
In another corner stood red-hot Evan Rodrigues, the steam virtually coming out of his ears even though he scored for the sixth time in eight games.
"It's unacceptable. You're not going to win games playing defense like that," Rodrigues said. "We're scoring enough goals to win games but we're not defending. It's 50 games in. The learning's over. We just have to defend. You're not going to win giving up six goals. It's a valuable point but we should win that game. We gave them five easy ones."
Coach Phil Housley was asked point-blank if this defense corps is simply not good enough as constructed – and quickly threw that hot potato back to General Manager Jason Botterill.
"That's Jason's job," Housley said pointedly. "Obviously, we're going to take a hard look at this game tonight and evaluate that tomorrow, but we're going to show it to them again and review it."
It stands to reason the head coach's evaluation should count big time and it seems like Housley isn't too big on what's going on at his old position. Memo to the GM: The trade deadline is 17 days away and counting.
"It's a choice you've got to make, protecting your own net and having respect for it," Housley said. "You look at the game and five of the six goals come right in front of our net. That's an area that players from the opposition should be very wary of going into. We've got to be tougher to play against. We've got to start pushing guys out."
The Sabres sure haven't done much of that lately. It seems like a fancy waiter could skate on the ice with a tray of champagne glasses and not get any of them broken by Buffalo defenders before he skated off.
"We have to do a better job in front of our net, making sure we're tying up guys and communicating," said blueliner Zach Bogosian, who played his 600th career NHL game. "When Linus is making big saves for us, it's our job to make sure there's no second opportunities. We have to clean that area up for sure."
"We just have to be harder in the zone, harder on the battle," Eichel said. "Break the puck out cleaner, make it harder on them."
Housley continues to confound observers with his decision-making. The building was alive after Skinner's tying goal. The Sabres' leading goal man had pushed his total to 33 and was in search for his fourth overtime winner of the season – which would have meant a hat trick against his old team.
And Housley didn't start him in the overtime. Didn't even play him for the first 2:45 of the extra session. Housley is insistent that Conor Sheary – who has two goals since Thanksgiving – is going to play with Eichel in overtime. Opportunity be damned.
"For the most part, I liked the possession we had," Housley said. "We turned a puck over when we could have brought it back. We had the puck for most of overtime."
Whatever. The Sabres didn't at the end. Eichel made a cardinal mistake in firing wide and Rasmus Dahlin was gassed at the end of his shift and had no chance to get back.
"You've got to hit the net. Can't miss the net there," Eichel said. "That one's on me."
This was a hollow point for the Sabres to earn. Their resilience was overwhelmed by the questions swirling around them.
"Any time you can stay in the fight, come back, tie things up and give yourself an opportunity, that's great," Bogosian said. "But at the end of the day, you have to win that game. It was a huge game for us. ... If there was a point to be made, it's between the defensemen. It's up to us to handle it."