NEWARK, N.J. – Evan Rodrigues and Sam Reinhart chose to be diplomatic in the aftermath of another gut-wrenching loss that continued the Buffalo Sabres' historic collapse.
Neither gave their opinion on a controversial call. Phil Housley didn't mince words, though.
The Sabres' coach was irritated that Reinhart's possible tying goal in the third period Monday night was nullified because officials determined through video review that Rodrigues interfered with New Jersey Devils goalie Cory Schneider.
Despite firing 46 shots on net, the Sabres allowed an empty-net goal with 1:25 remaining in regulation and lost to the Devils, 3-1, in Prudential Center. Housley's players performed with the sort of urgency they lacked during their short playoff push.
The Sabres created traffic in front of Schneider and had 28 more shot attempts. They also limited the Devils to just 21 shots on goal. Yet, Buffalo (31-35-9) lost for the 16th time in 19 games, and it has dropped 10 of its last 11.
"I just thought we played the right way for 60 minutes," Housley lamented. "We had opportunities. We had chances. We just didn’t find the next goal. It’s unfortunate they get that power play in the third there, and I didn’t agree with the goalie interference call. We have to continue to play this way. We’re going to get results if we continue to tighten it up."
Before the Sabres touched a puck in practice Sunday in Prudential Center, their coaches showed players clips of traffic in front of Carter Hutton compared to Montreal goalie Carey Price during a 7-4 loss Saturday night.
The difference was remarkable. Housley harped on getting to the net against the Devils (29-39-9), while improving puck management. After all, the Sabres' 5-on-5 play has deteriorated since their 10-game win streak in November because of turnovers.
His players responded with their first 40-plus shot performance since Feb. 1, and the fewest shots against since a 5-1 win over the Devils in KeyBank Center on Jan. 8. Ullmark made timely saves, particularly during the Devils' late second-period blitz.
A number of Sabres also played well. A late addition to the lineup with Zach Bogosian injured, Lawrence Pilut had three shots on goal and was remarkable with the puck. Rasmus Dahlin had five shots on goal, while Jeff Skinner had a team-high six and Jack Eichel had a strong third period.
Yet, Schneider stopped 45 shots, including all 22 he faced in the third period. It appeared he allowed the tying goal with 13:36 remaining in regulation when Reinhart buried a rebound from Skinner's shot into the back of the net. Devils coach John Hynes challenged for goalie interference, and after almost five minutes, officials ruled that Rodrigues hindered Schneider's ability to make a save.
Housley, on the other hand, thought Devils defenseman Travis Greene was at fault by skating backward into Rodrigues.
"I totally disagree with the call," Housley continued. "I think he’s got his territory in front of the goaltender. We’re telling our guys to go to the front of the net. He does the right thing. A guy backs into him. They saw it differently, but I disagreed with it."
Following the decision, Skinner nearly the tied the score with a breakaway up the left side of the ice, only to have his shot stopped and his second chance went wide of the net. Schneider stopped one-timers from Alex Nylander and Tage Thompson, as well as a power-play backhander by Skinner, in the game's final moments.
In the end, the Sabres' only goal came at 7:23 into the first period, when Reinhart shot a puck from behind the red line at center ice and it took an awkward bounce to skip over Schneider's leg pad, tying the score 1-1. The Devils had lost 10 of their previous 12 games and were outscored 12-2 during a three-game stretch last week.
"It’s not a good feeling," Rodrigues said. "There’s no other way to put it. We did things right. We played the right way. We didn’t give them much. We got pucks on net. We pretty much did everything we wanted to, except put the puck in the net and that seems like the way it’s going these days."
Though the Devils had only 10 shots on goal over the final 40 minutes, they went 2-for-3 on the power play before Miles Wood added an empty-net goal. Meanwhile, the Sabres could not capitalize on their three power-play opportunities.
New Jersey took a 1-0 lead only 1:55 into the game, when Marco Scandella could not clear a loose puck, and it was collected in the right corner by Blake Coleman, who was able to skate to the front of the net and score because Scandella was out of position.
Following an impressive second period by the Sabres, New Jersey scored at 4:30 into the third period when Ullmark was unable to see Pavel Zacha's shot because of Wood's screen in front of the net.
"We let a guy walk right out of the corner, and we got the puck right on our stick," Housley said. "Those things happen fast after the fact, but that shot from the side – I think Linus was leaning the wrong way, instead of leaning on the other side."
The Sabres own the NHL's third-worst road record and are 12th in the Eastern Conference after they were officially eliminated from the playoffs with Saturday's loss in Montreal. Their next stop is Ottawa, where they will play the second night of a back-to-back Tuesday, and only seven games remain in another non-playoff season.
Now, all they can do is hope that an effort such as this can help them build toward the future.
"I think if we play like that and start getting more results it’s not going to do anything from a standings standpoint, but internally, in the room, it’s going to lead to next year," Reinhart explained. "That's where we’re at and that’s what our focus is on now for the next seven."