BUFFALO – It’s getting ugly again. In fact, it’s starting to feel like October. The Sabres are losing every game. They can’t score. Opponents keep outshooting them.
Following an exciting 10-3 run, the Sabres have lost three straight games and seven of the last eight.
A wretched start, an early-season staple, doomed the Sabres in Friday’s boring 2-0 loss to the Florida Panthers before a capacity crowd of 19,070 fans inside a quiet First Niagara Center.
“This game’s a 60-minute game,” Sabres coach Ted Nolan said. “You have one bad period, it’s tough to catch up. Our first period was god-awful. We tried a little bit in the second and got better as the game went but (it was) not enough.”
Brad Boyes scored just 3:29 into the game, capitalizing after Sabres defenseman Tyson Strachan whiffed on the puck under pressure from Sean Bergenheim behind his own net.
“I just straight fanned on the puck,” Strachan said. “Put my head up just to kind of see where I was going to go with it, went to shoot it and it wasn’t there, and all of sudden it’s in the back of our net.”
Nick Bjugstad followed on the Panthers’ lone power-play at 11:51.
“It’s huge,” Strachan said about the start. “We talked about it all day, talking about how we needed to play 60 minutes. It was three minutes. I guess we played 57, and that’s a big mistake. That’s the game right there.”
The Panthers outshot the Sabres 19-7 in the first period. The Sabres came on a bit during the final 40 minutes, sprinkling 23 more shots on Panthers goalie Roberto Luongo.
Still, the Sabres hardly generated any prime scoring chances and were outshot 33-30 overall. Their only power play came with 33 seconds left in the game.
They have been outscored 35-15 during the last eight games.
“We’re not shooting enough,” Nolan said. “In order to score, especially on top-end goaltenders, you got to get some screens in front of them, you got to throw some pucks from everywhere, and we didn’t do it. The effort was there for the second and third, but we just blew the game in the first.”
The Sabres have been shut out seven times in 39 games. Get this: Luongo has blanked the Sabres three straight times in Buffalo and in four of his last five appearances against the club. He has stopped 132 of the 134 shots he has faced during the five-game run.
“When do we come back?” Luongo cracked.
Sadly, the Panthers don’t visit Buffalo again this season. The teams meet again Feb. 28 in Florida.
The Sabres haven’t scored on Luongo at home since Jason Pominville’s goal 16:26 into the third period of a 5-3 win against Florida on Feb. 11, 2006.
Luongo also had a 26-save shutout here Oct. 17.
“He’s a good goalie,” said winger Tyler Ennis, whose second-period backhander nearly beat Luongo. “They play a pretty tight defensive game.”
The Sabres desperately need more offense, especially from centers Mikhail Grigorenko and Johan Larsson, two recent recalls. The youngsters have combined for one goal in 19 games. Larsson scored late in a blowout.
“We need better,” Nolan said. “At this level, it’s not a free pass. You have to compete and you have to work at this level, and you only get a certain amount of opportunities. Grigorenko was a little bit better as the game went, but it was not good enough yet.”
Luongo outplayed Sabres goalie Michal Neuvirth, who settled down and looked sharp after the two early goals.
“I’m proud about my mental toughness tonight,” Neuvirth said. “I was feeling better each minute. It felt good.”
Neuvirth, who started for just the fourth time in 19 games, hasn’t won since Nov. 15.
“He made some real big saves for us,” Nolan said. “It could’ve been 3 or 4-0 that first period. But he held the fort for us pretty well and gave us a chance. We can’t complain about our goaltending.”
Jhonas Enroth could be back in goal tonight in New York against the Rangers, however.