Rasmus Dahlin playfully called his shot.
Even after an ugly third period two days earlier in which a dismal performance on the man advantage titled momentum in Pittsburgh’s favor, Dahlin predicted Thursday morning that the Buffalo Sabres were going to fix the power play.
The 5-0 burn the Buffalo Sabres took from the Calgary Flames was the first pure stinker this season under Don Granato, the first time they looked like the team-with-no-clue we saw so many nights under Ralph Krueger, writes Mike Harrington.
“I mean, that game is over, and I really think that something good is going to happen today,” Dahlin declared.
Confidence won’t be as easy to conjure for Dahlin and the young Sabres after what occurred on the KeyBank Center ice hours later. Their worst performance to date took place in front of a sparse crowd as the Sabres were dismantled 5-0 by the Calgary Flames.
The Sabres (7-7-2) were 5-2-1 at home and won two of their previous three games, including the 2-1 victory over Pittsburgh in which goalie Dustin Tokarski bailed them out with a career-high 45 saves, including 19 in the third period.
Tokarski couldn’t play the role of hero Thursday. His teammates were a disaster in front of him, committing uncharacteristic mistakes that led to three goals in a span of 1:37 during a second period that ended with fans booing the Sabres off the ice.
"We have a great group of guys," said Sabres winger Vinnie Hinostroza. "I think if you look at any team, even the teams that win Stanley Cups, every year they have games like that. It’s definitely not something we’re panicking about, but it’s definitely something we can’t let happen again."
Coach Don Granato’s forwards and defensemen didn’t put Tokarski in a position to make enough saves. Matthew Tkachuk made it 3-0 when he received a cross-ice pass from Johnny Gaudreau behind the right hashmark and fired a wrist shot past Tokarski at 13:58.
Then, Andrew Mangiapane scored his second of the game on a give-and-go with Mikael Backlund, sending Sabres defenseman Will Butcher spinning in desperation to try to thwart the 2-on-1 rush. The lead was at 5-0 with a power-play goal where Gaudreau was left wide open back door for a tap-in on an pass from Sean Monahan that went through the crease.
There hadn't been so many defensive-zone breakdowns by the Sabres in KeyBank Center since Ralph Krueger was behind the bench. Buffalo failed to register double-digit shots for four consecutive periods dating back to Tuesday, and Granato described this latest effort as "lethargic."
"We didn’t look like ourselves from the start and we didn’t look like ourselves at all through the game," said Granato. "It’s still a mystery to why that is."
While this was a continuation of the flat showing we saw during the final 20 minutes in Pittsburgh, the blunders around Tokarski have been rare this season. Entering Wednesday, the Sabres ranked 10th in the NHL in limiting shot quality at 5-on-5, according to Evolving-Hockey.com.
For coach Don Granato, it's all about putting his young players in a spot where they can learn valuable lessons.
The Sabres seemed to be gaining momentum in the latter portion of the first period after Gaudreau scored on a breakaway, fending off Colin Miller and firing a shot below the crossbar. But another mistake seemed to send them into a downward spiral.
A coverage mistake gave Mangiapane room to skate down the slot and receive a pass from Christopher Tanev before beating Tokarski with a backhanded shot off the glove for a 2-0 lead at 1:42 into the second period. It was more than enough to support goalie Jacob Markstrom, who earned his league-best fifth shutout with 27 saves.
Mercifully, Granato replaced Tokarski with Aaron Dell for the third period, and the Sabres spent most of that time hemmed in their own zone. While the errors are correctable, it might be more difficult to address the impact this performance can have on the confidence of the young Sabres.
"Obviously, that’s not what we want to do and how we want to play," lamented Hinostroza. "Kind of an embarrassing effort at home and it’s not up to our standard, so obviously we’re all going to be upset about it. ... We have five games in seven days coming up and that’s time for our group to make a statement."
Here are other observations from the game Thursday night:
Goalie Dustin Tokarski delivered a career-high 45 saves, including 20 in the chaotic third period, to hold off the Penguins and secure a 2-1 win for the Sabres on Tuesday night.
1. Too soon to panic
The Sabres need to fix their power play, which is 2 for 22 with Victor Olofsson out of the lineup. The defense pairs could use a slight change and this team isn’t creating enough quality chances at 5-on-5. But this performance shouldn’t cause significant concern.
Despite missing three key players, the Sabres’ 16 points through 16 games are a major improvement from last season when they needed 24 games to reach that mark. Granato has shown that he’s able to make proper adjustments.
"That definitely wasn't our game," said Zemgus Girgensons.
2. Slow start
Gaudreau’s goal on the stretch pass from Tkachuk was the Flames’ 11th shot on goal only 10:30 into the first period. Entering Thursday, Calgary had scored first in 12 of its 16 games and held a 7-1-1 record when leading after the first period. The Flames had the edge in shots (14-8) and shot attempts (22-11), as the Sabres had trouble exiting their own zone.
Buffalo had a few near misses around Calgary’s net, as Tage Thompson’s back door pass from the right point to Jeff Skinner went wide and Girgensons’ shot on a drop pass from Cody Eakin tested Markstrom.
3. By the numbers
Thompson had a team-high four shots on goal, and the Sabres had 52.94% of the 5-on-5 shot attempts when Thompson’s line was on the ice. … Dahlin skated a team-high 21:50. … The Flames had 19 shot attempts at 5-on-5 when Eakin, Girgensons and Kyle Okposo were on the ice. … Calgary is the first NHL team in the modern era (since 1943) to have six shutouts in its first 17 games. The last team to do it was the 1938-39 Boston Bruins. … The Flames finished with 33 shots on goal, and Dell stopped all 10 shots he faced in the third period.
Olofsson (upper body), center Casey Mittelstadt (upper body), goalie Craig Anderson (upper body) and defenseman Henri Jokiharju (lower body) remain out because of injury. … Defenseman Christian Wolanin was a healthy scratch for Buffalo. Calgary’s scratches were Michael Stone, Juuso Valimaki and Walker Duehr.
The Sabres face the New York Rangers in Madison Square Garden on Sunday at 6 p.m., followed by a home game Monday against the Columbus Blue Jackets.