DENVER — Scoring hasn't been a problem for the Buffalo Sabres in recent games. But then came Saturday afternoon in Pepsi Center.
The Sabres endured their third shutout of the season in a 3-0 loss to the Colorado Avalanche, and this was a complete no-show at the offensive end.
The Sabres were outshot, 43-18, but most of their pressure came in garbage time, with seven shots on goal coming over the final 2:20 after goalie Carter Hutton was pulled for an extra attacker. The Avalanche doubled Buffalo in shot attempts, 76-38.
Buffalo had a paltry seven shots on goal over the first 44 1/2 minutes of the game, and three of those came from defensemen. The club record for fewest shots is 10, and the Sabres didn't reach that until there was 6:41 left on a routine Jack Eichel drive from just inside center ice.
At that point, the count was an eye-popping 36-9 for the Avalanche.
"Obviously you try to make adjustments, find ways to get in," said winger Jeff Skinner. "We didn't do a good enough job creating the forecheck."
"All they did was pressure us and we didn't execute," said coach Phil Housley. "Whether it was a breakout or set breakout, we couldn't gain zones, and it turns right back on us and they look like they were playing a fast game."
Colorado backup goalie Philipp Grubauer entered the game with a 3.20 goals-against average and .897 save percentage on the season, but the Sabres made it easy on him until the final flurries.
Grubauer continued his career dominance against Buffalo from his days in Washington, improving to 5-1-2 against the Sabres — with a 1.15 goals-against average and .957 save percentage. He's given up just 10 goals in nine career appearances against the Sabres.
Grubauer's best save came on a Sam Reinhart breakaway in the first period, as Reinhart broke loose coming out of the penalty box and took a Zemgus Girgensons feed up the middle. Grubauer stayed with Reinhart's deke and made a skate save.
"I think if I just hold on to it another half a foot, it's a wide-open net," said Reinhart, who hasn't scored in six games. "It's frustrating when things don't go in when it's been a couple games. At that point, you just need to relax, settle myself down and get back to it."
Reinhart breakaway out of the penalty box pic.twitter.com/MUXl2pM7Wt
— Ben Mathewson (@Ben_Mathewson) March 9, 2019
The Sabres entered this game averaging 3.28 goals over their previous seven and with at least 30 shots on goal for 11 straight games, so a no-show like this was unexpected. But Reinhart said he sensed there were too many one-and-done possessions the last couple games and the team has to work harder at maintaining the offensive zone cycles.
No one is more frustrated right now than Skinner, who has been stuck on 36 goals for 11 games. He had no shots on goal Saturday for the first time since Dec. 8.
"It's part of my job to produce and obviously this last little stretch I haven't done a good enough job and we haven't been getting results," said Skinner, referring to Buffalo's 2-7-2 mark in the 11 games. "That's not a good combo I think.
"You try and find ways to get out of it. Maybe spend more time in the O-zone, but also more time around their net to get a greasy one and get off this slide."
The Sabres shifted defense partners, putting Rasmus Dahlin with Rasmus Ristolainen and Marco Scandella with Casey Nelson. They kept Zach Bogosian with Brandon Montour.
Bogosian led the club in ice time at 24 minutes, 15 seconds. Ristolainen was at 23:10, Montour 23:01 and Dahlin 21:14. Scandella (14:17) and Nelson (13:21) were held to third-pair minutes.
Dahlin was burned badly on Nathan MacKinnon's second-period goal that opened the scoring and finished at minus-2 as he was on the ice for Gabriel Bourque's empty-net goal.
Ristolainen was minus-1 to drop his NHL-worst rating to minus-34. He is minus-12 over his last seven games.
The Sabres scratched winger Tage Thompson and defenseman Matt Hunwick. Casey Mittelstadt spent most of the game at left wing for the first time this year, playing just 10:32 and collecting one shot on goal. It was his lowest ice time since Jan. 3.
Mikko Rantanen's third-period goal was his 30th of the season, giving the Avalanche a trio of 30-goal scorers in the same season for the first time since their 1995-96 Stanley Cup team. That club had four, led by Joe Sakic's 51-goal season.
MacKinnon's second-period goal was his 35th of the season and his three-point game gave him 87 points, allowing him to take over the team scoring lead from Rantenan (30-56-86). Injured captain Gabriel Landeskog has 33 goals this season.