By Budd Bailey, Buffalo Sports Page Columnist
A pretty good month for the Buffalo Sabres turned out to have a scary ending to it.
But what else would you expect in October?
Halloween, with its quota of ghosts and goblins, arrived a night early at the KeyBank Center. The Sabres appeared poised to finish one of their best Octobers in years when they carried a 1-0 lead into the final moments of their game with the Calgary Flames. Buffalo gave up one goal in the last minute of regulation, didn’t convert a power play at the start of overtime, and then allowed the game winner in a 2-1 loss before 15,196.
The Sabres fell to 6-4-2 for the month, thus winning as many as they lost before turning the page of the calendar to November. That’s not bad for a team that was last overall in 2017-18, but this one obviously hurt.
Buffalo had a great chance of stealing a point on a night when it didn’t do a whole lot, but let it get away.
“Right from the drop of the puck, we weren’t ready to play,” Jason Pominville said.
“(It’s) not very shocking,” goalie Carter Hutton said about the finish. “We were outplayed. We had the lead but couldn’t get it done.”
Less than energetic
The Flames had played the night before while the Sabres were idle. Usually that means Buffalo should have had more energy, particularly in the third period. But Calgary was the one that carried the play for long stretches. The Flames had a 27-18 edge in shots after the first period, and it felt even more one-sided than that.
But the scoreboard didn’t reflect that fact. In fact, Jack Eichel had the only goal of the first 59 minutes. Pominville set him up to earn the 500th point of his Sabre career in the process. In fact, the Flames were either just missing in their attempts to connect on scoring plays, or Hutton was ready for anything thrown at him. One stunning save off the paddle of his stick probably will rank the best single moments by a Sabre goalie this season.
“He played great,” Eichel said about Hutton. “He was our best player.
“We sat back a little too much in the third period. … We relied on our goalie too much.”
Hutton was the team’s best penalty-killer, too. Calgary finished 0 for 5 with the extra man, which no doubt was a factor in how the Sabres held on to an edge for so long.
The Flames pulled their goalie with more than two minutes left, and did a good job of generally keeping the puck in the Buffalo zone. Soon after the game entered its final minute of regulation time, Calgary got a kind bounce – two of them, actually.
“The puck hit Risto (Rasmus Ristolainen), the ice, and went in,” said Hutton, who was obviously still borderline furious while giving a postgame interview.
The Sabres were given a golden opportunity to win in overtime when they had a power play to start the extra session. But a couple of good chances misfired, and the teams played on. Then Buffalo missed opportunities to keep control of the puck, and the Flames were off on a two-on-one. Johnny Gaudreau and Mark Giordano worked it perfectly, as Hutton had to take the shooter, Giordano, and had no chance to return to the net when a return pass went to Gaudreau. Swish.
“I came across, but he put it back to Gaudreau,” Hutton said. “It was a good play but it never should have gotten to that point. … We played with fire all night.”
“Even though we didn’t play up to our standard, we had a chance to win the hockey game,” Buffalo coach Phil Housley said. “(Hutton) was asked to stand on his head, and it’s unfortunate. It was sloppy, we looked a little slow at times, we were disconnected. We didn’t play as a team.”
The Sabres thus move on to a home-and-home series with Ottawa to begin November. Buffalo plays on the Senators’ home ice on Thursday night before Ottawa returns the favor on Saturday afternoon.
(Follow Budd on Twitter @WDX2BB)