Sabres’ hopes bounce away

by Budd Bailey, Buffalo Sports Page Columnist

Just when it looked as if the Buffalo Sabres were poised to end their current losing streak on Saturday, the Hockey Gods laughed.

Really, after the way this season has gone, did you expect anything else?

The Sabres were tied with the Carolina Hurricanes, 1-1, late in the third period, and appeared to score the go-ahead goal. A big win – which after going 0-2-2 in the previous five games is defined as any win – seemed imminent.

Nope. The goal was wiped out after a review. Then a bouncing puck turned into a Hurricanes’ breakaway, which turned into a Hurricanes’ goal. Carolina went on to notch an empty-netter and finish off the Sabres by a 3-1 count. The game was witnessed by 18,028 at the KeyBank Center.

“That’s what happens,” said defenseman Justin Falk, who gets credit for facing the media after losing the puck on the game-winner by Sebastian Aho. ”Maybe we’re not working hard enough to get the bounces.”

NOT MUCH OFFENSE

It was a strange night of hockey in which the Sabres almost made 10 minutes of good play stand up for a win. As for the first 50 minutes, well, let’s say the customers didn’t get much value for their entertainment dollar. Buffalo didn’t even have a shot on goal for the first 17 minutes of the game.

Maybe that’s not surprising for a team that has scored exactly one goal in five of its last seven contests, but that’s doesn’t make it any easier to swallow.

“We’ve had some chances, but we need to generate more offense as a team,” Evander Kane said. “It’s not only a matter of execution, but it’s a matter of taking the puck to the net instead of playing on the perimeter way too much.”

For a while it looked as if a Justin Williams goal – as he popped out of the penalty box and made a nifty move on a two-on-one break – might hold up. But in the third period, something lit a fire under the Sabres’ top line. Jack Eichel was skating around most of the Hurricanes, a dynamic force on the ice. Kane finally got the Sabres on the scoreboard with 7:33 left, and when a rebound of a Sam Reinhart shot bounced off Kane and into the net, the fans could let out an honest-to-goodness roar.

But those same fans sighed when it was ruled Kane more or less kicked the puck into the net. No goal.

“I didn’t agree with the call,” he said. “I was going hard to the net, and I was self-conscious of not kicking it.”

THAT’S HOW THE PUCK BOUNCES

Less than three minutes later, Falk couldn’t keep a bouncing puck from going behind him. Before anyone could blink, Aho was off to beat Chad Johnson for the winner.

“I went to pick it up after it landed,” he said. “I thought it had settled down enough.”

Coach Phil Housley added, “It’s a 1-1 game late in the third period, we’re battling them, we make a mistake and it ends up in our net.”

The Sabres find themselves at 5-11-4 after extending the winless streak to five games. They are still looking up at everyone in the NHL in points except Arizona, and the Coyotes even gained ground on Buffalo with a win Saturday.

It was not the start to a big four-game homestand – which in theory represents a chance to turn the ship around a bit – the Sabres wanted, particularly on offense. Buffalo will get another chance to do that on Monday night when it hosts Columbus.

As Housley understated when asked about his feelings after the game, “It is testing my patience.”

Budd Bailey

Budd Bailey has been involved in almost every aspect of the local sports scene for the last 40 years. He worked for WEBR Radio, the Buffalo Sabres' public relations department and The Buffalo News during that time. In that time he covered virtually every aspect of the area's sports world, from high schools to the Bills and Sabres and everything in between. Along the way, Budd served as a play-by-play announcer for the Bisons, an analyst for the Stallions, and a talk-show host. He won the National Lacrosse League's Tom Borrelli Award as the media personality of the year in 2011, and was a finalist for that same award in 2017. Budd's seventh and eighth books, one on the Transcontinental Railroad and the other about Ichiro Suzuki, are scheduled to be released in the fall.

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