By Budd Bailey, Buffalo Sports Page Columnist
You might have heard – or at least read about in a dusty history book – how the Buffalo Bills went 0 for the 1970s against the Miami Dolphins – as in 20 straight losses.
The Sabres are in the midst of a similar relationship in this decade with Boston Bruins.
As the 2010s wind down to a precious few days, the Sabres have finished below the Bruins in all nine completed seasons. What’s more, the 2019-20 season definitely looks like it will be added to that list come April.
The Bruins added another line to their decade of dominance when they beat the Sabres, 3-0, before a sellout crowd of 19.070 at the KeyBank Center Friday night. No doubt some of those fans received tickets under the Christmas tree, but there was little holiday joy to be found anywhere but the Boston locker room after this game.
“They’re a great team defensively,” Jack Eichel said about the Bruins. “Obviously we knew that going in there. They do a great job taking care of the front of their net, and keeping you to the outside. They go a good job of it. We still had a lot of chances, but we didn’t capitalize on them and they did.”
It seems rather obvious that as the Buffalo offense goes, so go the Sabres. When the team is scoring like it did at the start of the season (38 in the first 10 games), it’s tough to beat. But it has been prone to slumps at times, perhaps because there haven’t been enough consistent scoring threats when the top players are shut down for one reason or another. This is one such slump – Buffalo has scored a total of five goals in the last four games and 10 in the last six (1-4-1).
In this particular game, the Sabres had their opportunities to score. They had some early in an odd first period which featured several great scoring chances on both sides that forced Jaroslav Halak of the Bruins and Linus Ullmark of the Sabres to come up big for their teams. Buffalo had a few more opportunities in the third period. But it was one of those nights when that goal that might have kick-started the Sabre offense never came. In that sense, it was like Buffalo’s 3-1 loss in Ottawa on Monday which featured one goal in 44 shots.
“I thought we had some looks – in the first period especially,” Jimmy Vesey said about Friday’s game. “I think the story of the day is that we had no goals. There is a lot to build on but we’ve got to find a way to score. None tonight, one in Ottawa – one goal in two games won’t get it done.”
Patrice Bergeron did the important scoring for the Bruins on Friday night. Boston had just started a power play when Bergeron found himself with the puck alone in the slot – with Ullmark not quite in the picture. Bergeron didn’t get all of the shot, but it went in for the first goal of the game.
For whatever reason, the goal left the Sabres disheartened for more than a period.
“When we had the penalty-killing breakdown, it sent shock waves through the teams,” coach Ralph Krueger of the Sabres said. “Our confidence went astray.”
Buffalo’s second period was not a good one, but it had a chance to escape it while only down a goal. However, a mistake in the form of a turnover by the Sabres’ Jimmy Vesey led to Bergeron had a tap-in goal off a two-on-one break.
“The second goal was a bad play by me – trying to take it back into the zone,” Vesey said. “I’ve got to eat the puck there – knowing who is on the ice there. I gave them an inch, and it’s in the back of the net.”
Buffalo at least came out for the third period with some anger about the way the game had gone to that point, and had opportunities to get back into the game. The Sabres had plenty of possession time, but missed the net or hit a goalpost when breaking through a sturdy Boston defense. Halek was the last line of defense, and he was perfect for a 26-save shutout – his second straight blanking of the Sabres.
If all that wasn’t a bit depressing from a Sabres standpoint, there was another piece of bad news. Jeff Skinner was involved in a third-period collision near the Buffalo bench that sent him to the ice. He needed time to get up, and when he did, he walked directly down the tunnel to the locker room. Skinner did not return and has an upper-body injury that will be clarified on Saturday.
“It’s tough,” Eichel said. “You don’t want to see anyone go down. Skins is obviously a big part of the team.”
And so the Sabres couldn’t come up with a victory against a good team once again, and that’s fast becoming another of the stories of their season. Buffalo only has two wins this season against teams that were in the top seven in the overall league standings late Friday night. One came on opening night in Pittsburgh way back in October, and the other was on Dec. 10 against St. Louis. If the Sabres truly have postseason aspirations, they need to show they can beat the league’s best more often.
They’ll have another opportunity to do that on Sunday in Boston.
(Follow Budd on Twitter @WDX2BB)