BUFFALO – By now, you figured the Sabres’ disturbing early-season penchant for allowing short-handed goals would’ve been corrected.
Four in the first three games? Yikes! That can’t continue, right?
Well, eight contests into what looks like another lost season, the reeling Sabres haven’t bucked the trend. A short-handed goal – incredibly, the Sabres have already allowed a whopping six – swung the momentum again in Friday’s 4-2 loss to the Vancouver Canucks before 18,050 fans inside KeyBank Center.
Up 2-1 despite getting thoroughly outplayed, Sabres defenseman Nathan Beaulieu made an ill-advised pinch in his own zone to defend Brandon Sutter, who zoomed by him. Sutter then fed Derek Dorsett for a two-on-one goal 5:52 into the second period.
Why do the 1-5-2 Sabres keep allowing goals on the power play?
“Lack of execution, lack of battle, lack of concentration, squeezing our sticks too tight, not making plays,” Sabres winger Kyle Okposo said bluntly.
Daniel Sedin’s disputed goal at 8:10 – the Sabres challenged Jake Virtanen was offside – held up as the winner. More on that later.
The record for most short-handed goals allowed in one season is 22, shared by three teams: the 1984-85 Pittsburgh Penguins, the 1991-92 Minnesota North Stars and the 1995-96 Colorado Avalanche, which won the Stanley Cup.
The Sabres are on pace to allow 62 short-handed goals over 82 games.
“Those things are really a big factor in the games that we’ve lost,” Sabres coach Phil Housley said. “We’ve built some momentum and it seems to be stealing it from us.”
The Sabres seized some early momentum after winger Justin Bailey connected on a nifty Ryan O’Reilly pass in front on the Sabres’ first shot. The goal at the one-minute mark was the Williamsville native’s first at home in his 43-game NHL career and second in three outings this season.
The Sabres, who looked disjointed all night, recorded their next shot at the 12:23 mark. By then, the Canucks had tied it.
“That was gross,” Okposo said of the weak start, another ugly trend this season. “We didn’t come out ready to play. It was what we had stressed, what we had talked about. We didn’t do it.”
Still, despite being outshot 17-5, the Sabres escaped the opening period up 2-1 after center Jack Eichel slickly undressed Ben Hutton in the right circle late
While Canucks goalie Jacob Markstrom looked a little shaky, the Sabres rarely tested him. The Canucks, meanwhile, peppered goalie Chad Johnson early and often, at one point holding a 36-10 shot advantage.
“A little bit of lack of execution,” Housley said of his team’s play after the fast start. “We had opportunities to get pucks deep. … We got it over the blue line, but not deep enough, and they countered.”
The Sabres believed countering Sedin’s goal with a replay request would wipe it out. Virtanen appeared to be over the blue line before he grabbed the puck seconds before the goal.
However, following a lengthy review, officials ruled he had possession.
“He did not have possession of the puck, he batted it down and then he let the puck go,” Okposo said. “I had the same play in the first period. I was backing in from the blue line, I got called offside. So I don’t see how that’s a goal. I thought it was a bad call.”
Housley agreed with Okposo.
“I disagree with the call, totally,” he said. “In my opinion, he knocks the puck out of the air. He never has possession. If you call that possession, then as long as I’ve been in the league, it’s a different answer or explanation that they give me. I call it 10 out of 10 times offside.”
Since the Sabres lost the challenge, they were given a delay of game penalty.
With the Sabres mustering little offense, Housley benched Okposo, giving him just one shift in the third period. Okposo played just nine minutes, 23 seconds overall.
So far, Okposo, who made his 600th NHL appearance Friday, has zero points and a wretched minus-6 rating in six games.
“I haven’t really liked my game up until this point, I seem to be thinking a lot,” said Okposo, who’s in the second season of a seven-year, $42 million contract. “I just got to settle down and make some plays. I’ve played in this league a long time. I know I can do it.”
Housley added: “Kyle’s got to get his feet moving. I went with the guys I thought we were going to have success with.”
The Sabres, who play a road tilt tonight against the Boston Bruins, lost Beaulieu to an upper-body injury, Housley said. Beaulieu is day-to-day.
Update: The Sabres recalled defenseman Zach Redmond from the Rochester Americans this morning. To make room, the Sabres placed defenseman Josh Gorges on injured reserve.