UNIONDALE – The mistake seemed innocent enough at the time.
Rasmus Ristolainen, an ultra-aggressive defenseman for the Sabres, skated forward at his own blue line to try to prevent New York Islanders center Mathew Barzal from entering Buffalo’s zone.
Ristolainen missed. Seconds later, the Islanders scored the game’s first goal on a shot by Noah Dobson over the blocker of Sabres goalie Jonas Johansson.
The Sabres never recovered Thursday night in Nassau Coliseum. The Islanders added another goal later in the first period and earned a 5-2 win to open a three-game series between the two teams.
Buffalo, now 6-12-3 with a league-worst 15 points, has lost five in a row. The Islanders (13-6-4), still perfect at home with an 8-0-2 record, have earned points in six straight games.
Taylor Hall told the media following the morning skate Thursday that he is open to returning to Buffalo next season.
Another ugly start doomed the Sabres, who have scored first only seven times in 21 games. Dobson and Matt Martin scored less than six minutes apart in the first period for the Islanders. Buffalo has a negative-10 goal differential in the first period this season. The Sabres have led at the first intermission only four times.
Sabres left wing Taylor Hall snapped his 19-game goalless drought in the second period by one-timing a rebound off the pad of Islanders goalie Ilya Sorokin. However, New York responded with goals from Anthony Beauvillier and Jordan Eberle, the former of which came on a nifty move during an odd-man rush. Martin scored his second of the game in the third period.
Johansson stopped 40 of 45 shots while making his second start of the season, and Ristolainen added a third-period goal for Buffalo, which finished with only 18 shots on goal.
Opening salvo: The Islanders took a 1-0 lead at 10:25 into the game on Dobson’s shot from atop the right circle. Ristolainen’s mishap at his own blue line created a 2-on-1 and Eberle passed back to Dobson, who scored his second goal of the season. The Sabres were caught in a bad line change and Ristolainen did not get back into position to prevent Dobson from having a clean look at the Islanders’ net.
Rookie mistake: Martin pushed the Islanders’ lead to two with a shot behind the goal line that went off Johansson and in at 16:21 into the first period. New York entered Thursday with a 9-1-2 record when scoring first.
At $6 million per season, it has to be about numbers. Okposo had just nine goals last season and has now gone over a year without scoring.
Momentum-killer: The opening five minutes weren’t terrible for the Sabres. They earned time in the offensive zone and showed an eagerness to skate to scoring areas. Trouble started in Buffalo’s end, as blown defensive coverage gave the Islanders clean looks in front of Johansson.
The Sabres took a pair of penalties in the first period, including one 40 seconds after Dobson’s goal. Buffalo was outshot 18-6 in the first period.
Drought ends: Sabres center Cody Eakin forced a neutral-zone turnover, carried the puck down the left wing and fired a shot that was stopped by Sorokin. The rebound, though, went directly to Hall, who scored his second goal of the season to narrow the deficit to 2-1 at 3:08 into the second period.
Tough break: The Islanders made it 3-1 at 14:58 into the second period by capitalizing on a Ristolainen turnover. The change of possession led to an odd-man rush in the neutral zone and Beauvillier broke free before beating Johansson.
More of the same: The Sabres had only five shots on goal in the second period, 11 total through 40 minutes Thursday night. New York, meanwhile, had 32 shots on goal through two periods and consistently made plays with the puck.
Costly turnover: Eberle made it 4-1 at 3:14 into the third period by scoring off the rebound created by an Anders Lee shot after Curtis Lazar committed a defensive-zone turnover.
Lineup: Winger Tage Thompson and defenseman Matt Irwin were healthy scratches. The Sabres’ taxi squad currently consists of Casey Mittelstadt, Dustin Tokarski, Brandon Davidson, Rasmus Asplund and C.J. Smith. Johansson got the start over Carter Hutton, who has an .891 save percentage while posting a 1-6-1 record this season.
Next: The Sabres are scheduled to practice Friday in preparation for their game Saturday against the Islanders at 1 p.m.