BUFFALO – An announced crowd of 18,368 fans trudged through the snow Saturday afternoon to watch the hapless Sabres face the Calgary Flames, a matchup of anemic NHL lightweights.
About three hours later, after the Sabres fell 2-1 in overtime, many of them had to be asking themselves why they bothered showing up.
Incredibly, the Sabres scored one goal or less for the 17th time in 33 games this season.
Their 51st goal, Matt Moulson’s score 5:40 into the third period, put them up 1-0.
But like so many times this season, the Sabres left themselves no margin for error.
Former Sabres prospect Paul Byron tied it before Matt Stajan won it 42 seconds into overtime.
“That’s been the theme here for a while,” interim Sabres coach Ted Nolan said. “We got to learn to put it in or get some breaks. We hit four goal posts.”
With Christmas 10 days away, the Sabres have seven wins (two in regulation) and 16 points.
Still, they’re getting more competitive. The offense, despite its meager production, looks better. And the goaltending is still strong.
Backup Jhonas Enroth played well in his third start in six games, stopping 24 shots. But the Swede, who said he “felt pretty bad,” wanted Stajan’s unscreened shot from the left circle back.
“I just missed the shot,” Enroth said. “So it’s not good.”
Nolan added: “That shot at the end, it was a very quick shot. Just one of those things we have to get more than one goal.”
Henrik Tallinder said the Sabres, who had 26 shots, created enough chances to win. The Flames began the day allowing 3.2 goals a game.
“I think it’s a confidence things we can’t put it in the net,” the defenseman said.
To score, they “almost have to put the whole goalie in the net,” Tallinder said.
Killing penalties didn’t help the Sabres, either. They took five minors in the first 40 minutes. Marcus Foligno had three in about a 12-minute span, so Nolan benched him. The center had one third-period shift.
“You don’t mind penalties, but once you get lazy and start grabbing people, cross-checking people for no reason, you’re better off not playing,” Nolan said.
Nolan sat tough guy John Scott, who took an early interference penalty. Scott didn’t play after the 13:42 mark of the first period. He has three minors in 4:18 on the ice in the last two games.
The penalties had a ripple effects. With Foligno and Scott sitting and Cody McCormick (upper body) out, the Sabres rolled three lines.
Captain Steve Ott skated 25:15, “a little bit too much,” Nolan said.
Moulson’s first goal in six games and his fifth with the Sabres opened the scoring 5:40 into the third period. Rookie winger Zemgus Girgensons created the goal by zooming down the right wing and dishing to Moulson in front.
Byron, who played eight games with the Sabres in 2010-11, tied it at 8:19 at the right of the net.
“I was really excited to play in this game today,” said Byron, who was part of the Robyn Regehr trade in 2011. “It’s been a while since I got traded but I saw this game was coming up and I just tried to play as well as I could.”
The center added: “This team drafted me, developed me, put a lot of time in me and I appreciate everything they did for me over those years and they gave me an opportunity here in Calgary. I’m glad we got the win tonight.”
Nolan said McCormick was being evaluated.