BUFFALO – Phil Housley spoke in measured tones following the Sabres’ fifth straight loss, an ugly 7-4 shellacking from the Winnipeg Jets. The rookie coach, even in trying times, never raises his voice.
But Tuesday’s embarrassing effort left Housley seething. He looked agitated talking about the Sabres’ 33rd defeat, a game not as close as the score might indicate.
Forty-three games into another lost season, the hapless Sabres are arguably the NHL’s worst team. Right now, they’re on pace for a franchise-low 19 victories.
To Housley, the Sabres lack “respect” and “urgency” defensively. His players are more concerned about offense. In the ultra-tight NHL, that will burn you every game.
“There’s a lot of cheat in our game,” said Housley, who uncharacteristically ripped his team. “I think they think that points are more important than playing solid defense and you can see the results that are coming.”
The Sabres, who allowed a season-high seven goals, have won only five of their 19 home games. Housley played the first eight seasons of his Hall of Fame career here, so he understands the passion for hockey in Buffalo.
He knows the fans, who haven’t watched a playoff game here since 2011, deserve better efforts.
“The one thing that really irritates me is that we got really good fans coming to the game,” Housley said. “There’s something for our guys to play for, let’s play for them. They’re coming here and spending their hard-earned money and we have to be better at home. …
“We … have (21) games left on home ice, we’ve got to take advantage, we’ve got to give our fans something to cheer about. And if requires us to win a 1-0 game, well then so be it. We’ll have to win a 1-0 game. But we’ll have to have more urgency in our defensive game.”
Poor defense and goaltending helped down the Sabres before 17,398 fans inside KeyBank Center.
After Sabres goalie Robin Lehner allowed a shaky power-play goal to Patrik Laine just 6:43 into the tilt, Jack Eichel tied it minutes later. But Dustin Byfuglien scored 49 seconds later.
“I screw up on the first goal,” Lehner said.
Following Nikolaj Ehlers’ goal 1:26 into the second period, Housley yanked Lehner.
“We’re going to need to some saves early on in the game,” Housley said. “I thought we came out with good energy. We get the tying goal, we got to get some saves at that point.”
Lehner said: “I got to be better. It wasn’t that great a game for me.”
Kyle Connor made the Sabres look silly later in the period, undressing defenseman Jake McCabe and zooming in and scoring on goalie Chad Johnson as three players chased him.
Housley said the Sabres’ defensive shortcoming often start in the offensive zone.
“We sit and wait at times.,” he said. “We’re hoping that somebody’s going to make a play and we don’t get back and then their D are ahead of us, and that’s where it starts. It gets back into our defensive zone.
“There’s going to be times where you’re going to have to sustain some defensive zone pressure from other teams. But it’s just having that urgency to kill a play, to suck it out and play solid defense. There’s some holes we have fix.”
At this point in the season, Lehner said he’s surprised the Sabres display little consistency.
“It’s very frustrating,” he said. “It must be very frustrating for the fans of Buffalo. … Even in game like today, take away the score, take away whatever you want to take away, I think we had good parts to our game. …
“In this league, you got to have all-around hockey, you got to be good in both ends, we got to all pull on the rope. … When we buy in and all do what we need to do, we show that we can do it. …
“That’s what all of us are tying to figure out, like why don’t we stick to that.”
Eichel said: “When we get away from our game and maybe get a little too cute between the blue lines, that’s when we find ourselves getting into trouble.”
Sabres center Jacob Josefson left the game after blocking a shot from Jets defenseman Tyler Myers early. Housley said Josefson will be evaluated today.