Sabres embarrassed by the Blackhawks to start their homestand

February 01, 2019 - 8:55 pm
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The Buffalo Sabres got embarrassed in the opening game of a seven-game homestand at KeyBank Center on Friday night.

The Chicago Blackhawks came to town and put up seven goals on the Sabres to hand them a 7-3 loss in front of the hometown faithful.

Despite the Sabres out-shooting the Blackhawks by a 43-30 total, the game was marred with mistakes and missed opportunities, leading to some glorious scoring chances for Chicago. Those were mistakes that head coach Phil Housley did not want to see his team make.

"I think we were too busy trying to score goals," Housley said following the loss. "Then when the puck gets turned over, where there was a possession in question, that switch isn't going off. We're waiting for some body else to come back. The lack of respect of our own net - the first period we had 15 shots, we should have 25 shots. We passed up way too many opportunities and when we did get shots, no body was in front of the net. We talk about Zone 1 - in this league, if you don't get there, you're not going to score. You look at the five goals out of the seven, the puck is on our stick and we're trying to make plays through people against a team that's very effective off the rush... The minuses will be piling up, our 5-on-5 differential is going to go the other way. So what do we do? We have to work on it tomorrow."

Friday's loss may have been the most angry that we've seen Phil Housley following a loss since the opening night of the season when the Sabres were shut out by the Boston Bruins at KeyBank Center.

The Sabres started the mishaps early with a couple of chances passed up from Casey Mittelstadt, Rasmus Ristolainen, and one glaring chance passed on by Jason Pominville. 

The first goal for Chicago came with just 1:22 to go in the first period off an errant pass from defenseman Zach Bogosian. He miss Sam Reinhart along the boards, instead of passing to a wide-open Rasmus Dahlin off to his right, and the puck ended up on the stick of defenseman Gustav Forsling. Forsling then threw the puck to the net for Drake Caggiula, who went uncontested in front of Carter Hutton and tucked a backhander around the Sabres netminder for the goal.

The second Blackhawks goal came just 50-seconds into the second period when Jeff Skinner tried to force a pass through a Blackhawks player to Jack Eichel, which led to a turnover and a breakaway chance for Patrick Kane. The Buffalo native was able to fire a wrist shot on the blocker side of Hutton to score his 30th goal of the season and pick up point No. 900 in his NHL career.

Spoiler alert: That was not the last time that Kane's name would appear on the scoresheet.

Duncan Keith scored just his second goal of the season 4:16 later as he beat Ristolainen to the outside, fired a shot on goal that Hutton thought he had, but the puck comes free for Keith, who buried his own rebound to make it 3-0.

Eichel cut the deficit to 3-1 with 1:55 to go in the second period, but for the 20th time this season, the opposition goes to work and scores a goal less than two minutes after the Sabres score a goal.

This time, Bogosian joins an offensive rush, but can't handle a pass at the Blackhawks blue line which leads to a turnover. Moments later, the Blackhawks go in on a 2-on-1 rush and Brandon Saad fires a wrist shot over the glove, short side on Hutton.

That ended Hutton's night after giving up four goals on 22 shots faced.

The Sabres played some of their worst hockey of the season in that second period. They started the period off with the early goal against, and then looked discombobulated for almost all of the second stanza. The Sabres were out-shot 11-2 in the first 10 minutes of the period, and were facing a 3-0 deficit. The fans at KeyBank Center were not happy with their team's effort in the period as they booed them off the ice heading into the intermission.

"I think in the second period, it just seemed like we had the puck on our stick and made it too easy on them," Sabres captain Jack Eichel said after to loss. "We didn't play well in the second. We gave up a lot of goals, and [the fans> had a reason to be upset."

The Sabres ended up getting a pair of goals early in the third period to make things interesting.

Pominville scored his 11th goal of the season as he went to the net and backhanded in a feed from Skinner. Less than four minutes later, Kyle Okposo jammed home his ninth goal of the season, on the power play to cut the deficit to 4-3.

Buffalo ended up flipping the script for a while, out-shooting the Blackhawks by an 11-0 total in the first 7:20 of the third period.

However, the Blackhawks provided the crushing blow with 8:36 to go in regulation as defenseman Connor Murphy scored his second goal of the season. It was unclear if Linus Ullmark actually saw the shot or not with Jason Pominville in his way at the time Murphy let the shot go.

After an empty net goal from Kane with 2:47 to go, Saad completed the night with his seventh goal after Sabres defenseman Marco Scandella whiffs on a pass in his own end, then loses the puck to Saad, who beat Ullmark through the five-hole.

Ullmark finished his evening with five saves on seven shots faced in the third period.

The offensive stats on paper were irrelevant when it came to evaluating this loss. The Sabres got the puck to the net, but never generated enough high-danger chances in front of the Blackhawks net. They also passed up on too many chances to shoot in open space, and made some bad shot selections which led to turnovers. Buffalo never got bodies to the front of the net in the offensive zone, and didn't do a good enough job of keeping players out of the front of their own net.

At this point of the season with the playoffs still in striking distance, the mistakes that keep happening on a night-in, night-out basis cannot keep happening.

"I think the learning experiences are far over now," Eichel said. "We're 50 some-odd games into the season and the learning experiences and learning from our mistakes - the mistakes are costing us points, and that's points in the standings we can't lose. Obviously we can't dwell on it. We've got a long homestand coming up, and we just have to just dig in. We have to make it harder on their team. When we have possession, we can;t give it back to them. We have to value it, and make it a lot harder on them. I don't think we're making it hard enough on teams in their own end. [43> shots, but how many of them were Grade A [chances> where you really said [Cam> Ward made a great save or somebody on their team made a great play? It just seems like we're just shooting maybe to shoot it, and it's feeding their game. We can't give up odd-man rushes. They have a lot of good players over there, and they capitalized on it."

Maybe Buffalo's best offensive player on the night was Skinner, who registered two assists and a game-high 10 shots on goal. He ended up with five shots on goal in the second period alone, which was nearly half of the production the Sabres put up in that time. Although, he too made a costly mistake that resulted in a goal against early in the second period.

Leading the way for Chicago was Kane, who finished the night with a a pair of goals and a pair of assists to give him 25 points in his last 10 games played. The 30-year-old winger scored his 30th and 31st goals of the season, tying him with Skinner for second in the National Hockey League in goals. 

If there was any bit of good news from the loss is that Okposo's power play goal in the third period broke an 0-for-18 slump for the Sabres on the man advantage in their last seven games. However, the team could still use a better effort from their special teams when they need it most.

The Sabres will return to the ice for practice on Saturday, but will not return to game action until Tuesday night against the Minnesota Wild. Faceoff is set for 7 p.m. with pre-game coverage starting at 6 p.m. with Mike Schopp and the Bulldog. 

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