ANAHEIM, Calif. – The first skirmish broke out in the corner where the Anaheim Ducks' Carter Rowney hit Buffalo Sabres winger Victor Olofsson from behind.
The second occurred when Jeff Skinner confronted Rickard Rakell for a hit on Rasmus Dahlin, and the most vicious of the confrontations came late in the second period when Nick Ritchie attacked Vladimir Sobotka during a stoppage in play.
The Ducks' antics appeared to cross the line at times. Sabres coach Ralph Krueger told the media afterward he intended to address a few of the hits with officials. However, the consensus inside the visitors' dressing room was the Sabres failed to properly respond to that physicality in a 5-2 loss in Honda Center on Wednesday night.
Rather than counterattacking the Ducks with speed and skill, the Sabres committed turnovers and failed to score on seven power-play opportunities in their first regulation loss of the season.
"That’s hockey right there," defenseman Jake McCabe said of the Ducks' physicality. "People could have said that about us the other night at home. You have to respond the right way, myself included. Be more physical and step up to the task. If they’re stepping over the line and going to the box then let’s score on the power play. We didn’t do that tonight and on the penalty kill we let one up as well."
The Sabres (5-1-1) blew a two-goal lead by allowing five consecutive goals, including an empty-netter with 3:13 remaining in regulation. Their power play failed to score on seven straight opportunities following Victor Olofsson's first-period goal.
Buffalo couldn't take advantage of the Ducks' 24 penalty minutes and wavered from the simple style of play that resulted in a 2-0 lead. Jack Eichel scored at 7:35 into the first period with a remarkable individual effort. The Sabres' captain blocked a shot, stole the puck from Ducks defenseman Josh Manson and shielded the puck with his body all the way to Anaheim's net, where he scored against goalie John Gibson.
With the Ducks chasing the Sabres' top power-play unit, Sam Reinhart retrieved a loose puck amid a scrum of players and found Olofsson, who scored his sixth goal of the season at 16:36 to push the lead to two goals. The Sabres also hit the post and tested Gibson with 19 shots on goal in the first period.
Following a challenge that negated an Anaheim goal, the Ducks broke through with 1:20 left in the first period when Adam Henrique deflected Manson's shot from the point to cut the deficit to one goal. The Sabres seemed to unravel from there and puck management was to blame.
"I don’t think it affected it as much as we were complicated with the puck," Krueger said of the Ducks' physicality. "We got complicated early in the second period. We had a couple of turnovers that gave them momentum. I didn’t feel that what happened then with the physicality really changed the way we were playing. ... The game got away from us. We’re not worried about playing physical. We can look teams in the eyes. I feel there’s a lot of courage on the bench there. Nobody shied away from anything and we stood up to it. Again, it’s a game to learn from in many ways."
The first notable mistake occurred 57 seconds into the second period, when Rasmus Ristolainen's clearing attempt in the defensive zone was knocked down by Ducks winger Jakob Silfverberg. The Sabres weren't able to cover Rakell, who corralled a pass and managed to score the tying goal.
The physicality picked up from there. Henri Jokiharju and Max Comtois were both penalized for exchanging jabs following a change in possession. The Sabres failed to score on their next power play and were unable to prevent the Ducks from peppering Ullmark with shots on the man advantage.
Following a split save by Ullmark, Ducks captain Ryan Getzlaf scored the go-ahead, power-play goal at 9:14 into the second period. Moments later, Olofsson missed on a breakaway attempt and was hit from behind by Rowney. Sam Reinhart came to Olofsson's defense, and the sequence ended with Olofsson being slammed to the ice.
The increase in physicality seemed to swing momentum in the Ducks' favor. Anaheim defenseman Cam Fowler hit the post following the Sabres' failed power play, and Buffalo's defensive structure, which helped the team have a plus-12 goal differential entering the game, crumbled.
The Sabres were chasing the puck in the defensive zone and their lack of discipline resulted in scoring opportunities. Anaheim had scored only 13 goals in six games and was 0-for-14 on the power play.
"Once you kind of get that adrenaline, testosterone going, it’s hard to cool down when you’re in the heat of the moment," Ullmark explained. "It’s definitely a [learning experience] for us. I liked the way we came back in the third. We started playing the way we should be doing. We could have slipped out of our hands and played 40 bad minutes, but I thought we did a really good job of coming back to our game."
McCabe added: "We had a great start. That’s exactly the start you want on the road. Doing a lot of good things early. Got away from it. They started playing physical. We didn’t respond very well. They kind of just took the game over. We didn’t have the push back we wanted."
Sobotka left for the dressing room when he was taken down by Ritchie, who appeared frustrated by a check against the boards moments earlier. Though Ullmark was also penalized on the play, the Sabres earned a power play and nearly scored when Marcus Johansson had a clean look at the net.
However, the Ducks managed to kill off the opportunity and Henrique scored his second goal of the game with 13 seconds remaining in the second period. The Sabres had only seven shots on goal in eight power-play opportunities.
Colin Miller replaced Dahlin on the top unit late in the game. Krueger also used different forward lines and defense pairings in the third period. The Sabres could never recover, though. Another valuable lesson that will require an immediate response.
"We had a lot of chances," Eichel said. "We just didn’t capitalize. … I thought maybe we were a little too cute with it and trying to make the fine play. I thought we had some chances and it’s frustrating we weren’t able to make them pay for taking the penalties. Overall, we need to learn from this one. I don’t know how well we handled the momentum swings of the game."