The Buffalo Sabres weathered the Columbus Blue Jackets’ early onslaught Sunday, escaping the opening 15 minutes with a 1-0 deficit despite being outshot 16-1.
Then defenseman Mark Pysyk scored on the Sabres’ second shot on goal, igniting his weary teammates. Center Tage Thompson followed at 17:14, scoring his 20th goal.
That lead lasted 10 seconds.
Boone Jenner tied it, and Dean Kukan’s second goal of the night – he entered the game with one all season – put the Blue Jackets back up 3:28 into the second period. The Sabres were toast, and they ended up losing 7-3 at Nationwide Arena.
Following Saturday afternoon’s 5-3 home loss to the Colorado Avalanche, the Sabres had nothing left in the tank, and it showed.
“We just looked tired – tired plays, tired mistakes,” coach Don Granato said on a Zoom call following the Sabres’ third straight loss. “(We were) physically tired, mentally a little bit tired. We couldn’t finish simple stuff.”
Granato said the Sabres did not adjust and tried to play the same game as Saturday while battling fatigue.
“You got to play smarter and more efficient,” he said.
Winger Kyle Okposo, who scored in the second period, said the Sabres’ mistakes were “just mental.”
“We just weren’t sharp in our zone, we were doing things that are uncharacteristic for our team,” said Okposo, who has scored three goals in the last four games. “Defensively, just not paying attention to details, right up to the last goal.”
The Sabres consistently hung goalie Craig Anderson out to dry.
“We didn’t help 41 at all back there, didn’t help Andy at all,” Okposo said. “That sums up the game right there. We just weren’t good defensively.”
Defenseman Rasmus Dahlin’s absence only added to the Sabres’ problems.
Granato said Dahlin, 21, suffered a lower-body injury Saturday. He doesn’t expect to injury to sideline Dahlin long-term.
“He was sore after a play that occurred last night and we’re going to hold him back to get some more observation,” Granato said prior to the game. “Didn’t feel too good with it this morning.”
Granato said he and Dahlin, who played 23 minutes, 23 seconds Saturday, don’t know on which play the injury occurred. In the third period, moments before the Avalanche scored the go-ahead goal, Jack Johnson knocked Dahlin down as they chased a puck behind the Colorado net.
“He had so much contact,” Granato said. “We literally went through clips and I’m not certain. … He felt it was fine even after the game and this morning it was a little more sore than we thought it would’ve been. He’s not sure which one. He’s in the flow of the game, adrenaline going, and he as in a lot of contact last night as we all saw.”
Playing without Dahlin, even for one game, was noticeable. The Swede, the Sabres’ only NHL All-Star, is the team’s most dynamic presence. He leads the Sabres in ice time this season, averaging 23 minutes, 44 seconds an outing.
“He’s the guy that we go to for power plays, penalty kills, defensive-zone faceoffs, offensive-zone faceoffs,” Granato said. “He’s the guy wearing all those hats. So big shoes to fill for other guys, which will be spread around.”
With Dahlin out, defenseman Robert Hagg returned to the lineup. Henri Jokiharju, Dahlin’s defense partner, absorbed some of his minutes, playing 25 minutes, 6 seconds.
Granato used different defensemen beside Jokiharju, who replaced Dahlin on the No. 1 power-play unit.
Notes: Sabres center Casey Mittelstadt played again Sunday, his second outing after an upper-body injury sidelined him five games. Mittelstadt recorded an assist on Okposo’s goal. … Blue Jackets goalie J-F Berube, who made 32 saves, played his first NHL game since April 6, 2018. … Anderson also made 32 stops.