If this regression of puck luck is bothering Jeff Skinner, he is not showing it. The Buffalo Sabres' leading scorer smirked late Tuesday night when asked of his 12-game goalless drought, despite hitting the post twice in KeyBank Center.
He had a more difficult time describing how the Sabres were shut out for a second consecutive game, a 2-0 loss to the Dallas Stars with Jack Eichel out of the lineup because of a two-game suspension.
"Just couldn't seem to find one," Skinner lamented.
The Sabres (30-30-9) have lost 11 of their last 13 games, including five straight, and have not scored a non-shootout goal since last Thursday in Chicago, a span of 137 minutes, 40 seconds. They are 12 points back of the second wild-card playoff spot with only 13 regular-season games to play.
Despite Eichel's absence, the Sabres had more shots (35-27), shot attempts (61-37) and 5-on-5 scoring chances (18-8) against the Stars (36-28-5), who own the first wild-card playoff spot in the Western Conference and had allowed only three goals over their previous four games, including two shutouts by goalie Ben Bishop. They lead the NHL with only 172 goals allowed through 69 games.
"It’s not a good feeling, but at the same time you have to stick with it and create some more," Skinner said when asked of his season-high slump. "A couple nice plays on those chances. Just got to stick with it and they’ll start going in."
The first post Skinner hit in the second period would have broken a scoreless tie. Alexander Nylander's one-timer from near the slot moments later went wide of the net, and Tage Thompson could not capitalize on a breakaway after he stripped a Stars defenseman of the puck.
The performance was in stark contrast to Saturday in Colorado, when the Sabres had only 18 shots on goal in a 3-0 loss.
"I think throughout the whole game we had our fair share of opportunities to score," Thompson said. "It’s just one of those nights where the puck’s not bouncing your way sometimes. ... I thought our effort was there, I thought our compete was there. As long as you’re getting those chances, I think you’re doing things right."
Still, the Sabres failed to score on three power-play opportunities, including two in the first period, and could not protect their own net in important moments. Stars winger Roope Hintz scored both of their goals in a span of five minutes, 43 seconds during the second period.
Neither Rasmus Dahlin nor Zach Bogosian challenged Hintz's shot from below the right faceoff dot, allowing Hintz to shoot the puck over Linus Ullmark's shoulder for a 1-0 lead at 7:29 into the period. Hintz then scored on the power play when Ullmark was unable to see the shot through a screen.
"Just stay the course," coach Phil Housley said. "I mean, we just got to keep digging in here and working. We’re going to break through. ... It’s just right now this is where we’re at as a group. We've got to find a way to make it tougher on the goalies."
Skinner hit the post with a backhanded shot for a second time during a power play with 10:29 remaining in regulation, and the Sabres did not allow a shot on goal in the final three minutes, 49 seconds in the third period.
They allowed less than three goals for the first time in eight games and those tasked with handling a heavier workload because of Eichel's absence fared well.
The Sabres took one step closer to becoming only the second team in NHL history to miss the playoffs in the same season in which they won 10 consecutive games, and they have earned the second-fewest points since the winning streak.
Buffalo went 49 games without being shutout – from the season opener against Boston to a 1-0 loss in Dallas on Jan. 30 – only to be held without a goal twice in three days, and have scored the sixth-fewest goals in the league since that memorable November run.
"If you have zero goals you can always do more," Skinner added. "We had some looks, but I thought we could have done more, and we’ll keep working at it."