BUFFALO – Coach Dan Bylsma heard the words – his Sabres had just missed a chance to hit .500 – and banged the podium out of frustration before a reporter could finish his question.
In a season full of close losses, Wednesday’s 2-1 shootout setback to the Detroit Red Wings might’ve hurt the most. The Sabres couldn’t convert several prime scoring chances throughout the night, including a few in overtime.
The 7-8-5 Sabres, a team ravaged by injuries, have battled for six weeks and eked out some wins. Evening their record as some key players return – Ryan O’Reilly played Wednesday and Jack Eichel might be about a week away – would’ve been notable.
Instead, their seventh one-goal loss kicked them back into last place in the Atlantic Division behind Detroit, which snapped its four-game losing streak.
“Tonight’s game, you kind of feel like we’re right there, we’re leaving a point on the table,” Bylsma said following the Sabres’ eighth 2-1 game this season..
The Sabres, whose two-game winning streak was snapped, also lost a point because goalie Robin Lehner couldn’t stop any Red Wings in the shootout.
After Detroit’s Gustav Nyquist and Sam Reinhart traded goals, Thomas Vanek scored the winner as the many in the crowd of 18,360 fans inside KeyBank Center booed the former Sabres star loudly.
The jeers motivated Vanek, who utilized his most his most notable move, briefly lifting his stick off the puck before shooting.
“Once they booed me, I figured I have to show them the move they’ve seen before,” Vanek said. “I wanted to score for my team, but once that happened I wanted to score even more.”
Incredibly, Lehner, who has a .922 save percentage, has allowed four goals on four shootout attempts over two losses.
“Every shooter for me right now is a tough shooter for me,” Lehner said. “I’m not really in the zone for the shootouts, to put it lightly. I’m practicing it every day. In practice I’m stopping the puck and in the games I’m not. A point slipped away.”
Bylsma said the Sabres have changed Lehner’s shootout approach and technique during practice.
“It’s probably a little bit mental at this point in time,” Bylsma said.
Of course, if the NHL’s lowest-scoring offense could’ve scored more than one goal, they wouldn’t have reached a shootout. The Sabres outshot the Red Wings 33-24.
“It’s frustrating,” Lehner said. “There’s a lot of talk we’re not scoring … but today again we hit four posts. I don’t know. Say whatever you want, we hit four posts. Any one of them could’ve gone in.”
He added: “We were better today and we had four posts.”
Nyquist scored 16:00 into the second period before Sabres captain Brian Gionta tied it 1:42 into the third period.
O’Reilly, the Sabres’ top center, played 22 minutes, 48 seconds after missing five games with an oblique injury.
“He extended himself in a couple shifts and got stuck out there in the second, those long shifts,” Bylsma said. “Then in the overtime he got stuck again, having to back again and playing in D-zone. But he was just kind of just where you want him to be at the end of the game with a chance to win the game on his stick.”
O’Reilly said: “I didn’t generate. Lenny can only do so much. I got to find a way to produce offense. I was on for a goal against, it was a bad read by myself. Going forward here, I have to be a lot better.”