By Budd Bailey, Buffalo Sports Page Columnist
Phil Housley walked into the media room after Tuesday’s 3-2 loss by his Buffalo Sabres to the Nashville Predators with a stern expression on his face. Admittedly, he hasn’t had a whole lot to be happy about lately. But it was rather obvious that any question would draw a fired-up response.
It’s been a brutal seven weeks for Housley, who has watched his team’s postseason chances unravel. For those who prefer their coaches to show some emotion during tough times, this was your kind of night.
Sure enough, the question was about how the Sabres had received a couple of bad breaks that might have changed the outcome of the game.
“It’s frustrating because we got screwed,” Housley said with emphasis.
The first instance came when Nashville’s Craig Smith raised his stick to deflect a shot from the blue line for the first goal of the game. The first period blast might have hit Smith’s stick, it might have hit Smith’s glove, and it might have been touched higher than the crossbar. The NHL’s replay people took a look at it from a few different angles, and pronounced it a good goal.
“You can’t argue the high stick because that’s coming from Toronto,” Housley said.
Then he skipped ahead to the second period. Buffalo trailed, 2-1, but had the puck bouncing around the crease. With a delayed penalty call coming to the Predators, Nashville goalie Pekka Rinne touched the puck but certainly didn’t have possession of it. Conor Sheary took advantage of the apparently vacated net to tie the game.
But, no. The play had been blown dead by an official.
“The call that was mind-boggling was the delayed penalty call,” Housley said. “The ref is sitting right in the corner. It’s unfortunate because of what we’ve been through. The guys played hard tonight. They got screwed.”
Too many obstacles
Some teams can fight off the tough times and still come up with a victory. But not these Sabres, not now. They don’t need the Hockey Gods working against them. They have enough trouble on their own.
Buffalo spent six of the next 10 minutes on the power play, and didn’t score. Everyone figured that the Sabres had just thrown some dirt on the hill they needed to climb to beat a Predators team that is fighting for position in the playoff race.
“If we capitalize there, we bounce back,” Jeff Skinner said. “We didn’t execute. But those things happen. It was unlucky breaks, but you’ve got to battle through it.”
At least Skinner tied the game late in the second period with his 38th goal of the season. That ended a long drought for the left winger, who hasn’t scored since March 16.
“The frustrating part is that obviously part of my job is to produce on offense and contribute to the team that way,” Skinner said. “I haven’t been doing that. When something like that happens you have to find other ways to contribute. It didn’t seem to be going in the net for a while.”
No change of pace
Since Skinner’s goal came with about five seconds left in the second period, you’d think that would have given Buffalo’s spirits a boost. But Nashville did a nifty job of holding the Sabres down during the third period.
“It’s a good hockey team,” goalie Carter Hutton said. “They shut it down.”
Ryan Johansen got the game-winner with 13:28 to go, and the Predators weren’t really in serious trouble the rest of the way. Nashville coach Peter Laviolette had talked Tuesday morning about how a struggling team often can rise up and give a big effort in such circumstances. The Sabres did that, expending plenty of energy to stay with a better team.
But it was still the team’s eighth loss in a row, putting the Sabres at 3-18-3 in their last 24 games.
“I’m not looking for moral victories,” Hutton said. “We’ve got to win hockey games. At this point of the year, we have to find a way to win.”
Skinner added, “We still have two games to work with each other, and compete out there, and try to win. If you are an athlete, you are competitive. We’ll put out a good effort and try to get two wins.”
The first of those games comes Thursday, when Ottawa shows up for Fan Appreciation Night.
(Follow Budd on Twitter @WDX2BB)