By Budd Bailey, Buffalo Sports Page Columnist
It’s not unreasonable to say that the Buffalo Sabres are in something of a slump.
They have only won one game out of their last five. The latest loss came on Saturday night at the KeyBank Center, as the Boston Bruins rallied to take a 3-2 overtime decision over the Sabres before a sellout crowd.
The Sabres have only earned three points in their last five games. That’s one of their worst such stretches of the season, which will reach the halfway point on Thursday. The team dropped five straight after the 10-game November winning streak. Buffalo lost four of five in late October/early November, but two of the defeats came in overtime.
This loss seemed to hurt more than most, though. Buffalo had a lead over a division rival in the closing minutes and couldn’t hold it. The old “at least we got a point out of it” line didn’t get trotted out. The Sabres were better than they were against St. Louis in their last game, but still came out on the wrong end.
“It was a completely different game (this time),” Marco Scandella said. “The St. Louis game wasn’t our game or our identity. We responded well. But it’s not good enough. We’ve got to get that win at home.”
It would be an oversimplification to say that you could have tuned into this one for the final minutes of regulation time and overtime, and watched most of the night’s drama. Still, that’s when the game was decided.
With 3:43 left in the third period and Buffalo clinging to a 2-1 lead, Rasmus Ristolainen was called for kneeing. The action came after the officials had seemed to pocket their whistles for the duration, leaving the fans in a small uproar.
“That was a pretty tough call at the end,” Evan Rodrigues said. “There were letting things go in the last half of the third period.”
“We played pretty good, and then they got the power play and got the momentum,” Johan Larsson said.
The Bruins, who had been piling up shots during the course of the third period, probably knew that the power play was their last best chance to tie matters. Jake DeBrusk made a dandy deflection of a shot by Torey Krug, and the Sabres had lost the lead for good.
Only 34 seconds into overtime, Buffalo picked up its own chance to score a power-play goal when Boston’s David Krejci was called for interference on Jeff Skinner. That’s a particularly dangerous situation for a defense, since it’s a case of four skaters on three. But the Bruins never let the Sabres’ offense get going in the two-minute span that followed.
“We finally got possession, and we were quick to make a play,” coach Phil Housley said. “We could have taken a breath and then tried to make a play. We needed to feel confident, and get everyone some touches.”
With that opportunity gone, Sean Kuraly got to his own rebound and beat Carter Hutton for the winner. It was Kuraly’s first career overtime score, and it spoiled a fine night by Hutton (39 saves).
Not enough scoring
Buffalo has been particularly snakebit on offensive when Hutton has been in the net lately. The Sabres only have six goals in the last four games that featured Hutton in the net. Both of Saturday’s goals came from unexpected sources – Scandella on a rebound of a Skinner rush, and Larsson with the team’s first short-handed goal of the season.
That was appreciated, but it wasn’t enough. It’s a familiar story, as players who aren’t on Jack Eichel’s line haven’t been able to get on the scoresheet regularly.
“Yeah, we’ve got to get some secondary scoring,” Rodrigues said. “You can’t rely on the primary scorers. We have to find a way to chip in – get a dirty one in front, whatever it takes.”
And one of those goals would have been appreciated when the team was nursing the 2-1 lead. But it never came.
“We had a great opportunity to win it, but we didn’t do it,” Scandella said.
The Sabres have a couple of days to figure out what’s gone wrong and fix it. The Islanders – fresh off a win in Toronto on Saturday night – will be the opponents on New Year’s Eve as the three-game homestand continues.
(Follow Budd on Twitter @WDX2BB)