JJ Peterka skates away Saturday after Montreal’s Cayden Primeau stopped his shootout attempt. ©2023, Micheline Veluvolu

Despite missed chances, Sabres keep forging identity in loss to Canadiens

BUFFALO – The final result, a 3-2 shootout loss to the Montreal Canadiens, stings. The Sabres squandered opportunities all night, pumping a season-high 48 shots on goal and failing to convert six power plays, including one that carried into overtime.

In Saturday’s shootout, they needed one stop to secure back-to-back wins for just the second time this season.

Still, in losing for the sixth time in eight outings (2-5-1), the Sabres at least carried over many of the positives they accomplished in Thursday’s 3-1 road win over the heavyweight Boston Bruins.

“We can agree that the last two games have looked a little bit different than the previous (25) or whatever we played,” Sabres captain Kyle Okposo said. “It’s more how we want to play and I think if we keep doing that on a nightly basis, we’re going to put ourselves in a pretty good spot.”

The Sabres have begun forging an identity they’ve lacked all season, playing more direct, pressuring their opponent and winning more battles.

They’ve been much tougher to play against.

Coach Don Granato, whose Sabres host the Arizona Coyotes on Monday, believes if they replicate their last two efforts, they’ll be rewarded.

“We have an intent and (have been) very specific in what we want to do and how we want to play,” Okposo said. “I’ve talked about the word identity the whole year, ‘We’re still trying to find it, we’re still trying to find it.’ Those two games are as close to it as we’ve played all year.”

When the Sabres pressure pucks and play fast, Okposo said, teams struggle to handle their speed.

“There’s no more resting on, ‘We’re a good offensive and we’re just gonna outscore them,’” he said. “We’re putting the work in.”

That work resulted in loads of scoring chances but just two goals scored on goalie Cayden Primeau. After Jayden Struble and Nick Suzuki scored 14 seconds apart in the second period, the Sabres roared back in the third.

Winger Jeff Skinner scored his team-leading 12th goal at 1:06 before Okposo tied it at 6:36, burying a rebound. Defenseman Connor Clifton created the goal by hectoring Justin Barron and stealing the puck.

The Sabres, who had three first-period power plays, received their final one 18:56 into the third period. They’re just two of 24 on the man advantage in the last seven games.

“We can compete harder, more direct on the power play, get shots quicker,” Granato said. “Just generate a shot and attack mentality. To me, that could’ve been a difference-maker for us tonight.”

Their power play sputtered against the NHL’s 30th-ranked penalty killing, so the Sabres had their first shootout this season before the bipartisan crowd of 17,123 fans in KeyBank Center. After trading goals, defenseman Owen Power put the Sabres up, but Jesse Ylonen tied it and Juraj Slafkovsky won it.

Sabres winger Eric Robinson was given a five-minute boarding penalty and game misconduct 11:00 into the second period for hitting Barron from behind into the end boards as the defenseman tried to grab the puck.

Barron left the ice before returning to the game.

A night earlier in Edmonton, the Oilers’ Evander Kane had a similar hit from behind on the Minnesota Wild’s Jonas Brodin but wasn’t penalized.

Okposo disagrees with the call on Robinson.

“I don’t understand how Evander Kane gets nothing last night and then there’s a five-minute penalty,” he said. “It doesn’t make any sense. Like, it’s the exact same play, there’s an injury on the play. I understand that he has to call it and that’s fine, that’s not on him.

“I just don’t like the consistency factor of it. That’s the literal identical play with zero penalty and then one with a five and a game. It doesn’t make sense.”

Prior to Saturday’s game, Sabres defenseman Rasmus Dahlin made it clear he felt ready to play.

“I’m feeling really, really, really, really good today, so it’s all good,” said Dahlin, who missed Thursday’s game with a nagging lower-body injury.

Dahlin said he battled through the injury until he needed to rest.

“I played with it for a while, it just got worse every day pretty much,” he said., “So I had to stay away from the ice for a couple days to let it heal. But now I’m ready to roll.”

With Dahlin back, the Sabres scratched rookie defenseman Ryan Johnson for the third time in five games.

Dahlin skated alongside Henri Jokiharju. Granato kept the defense tandem of Power and Mattias Samuelsson, Dahlin’s regular partner, together following a strong outing in Boston.

Granato said winger Zemgus Girgensons hasn’t progressed in his recovery from a lower-body injury.

“He was probably a week or so away,” he said. “It might be a little more than that.”

Meanwhile, Granato said wingers Alex Tuch (possible hamstring injury) and Jordan Greenway (upper body) could play later in Buffalo’s three-game road trip this week.

The Sabres play the Colorado Avalanche on Wednesday, the Vegas Golden Knights on Friday and the Arizona Coyotes next Saturday.

Granato also said the Sabres expect goalie Ukko-Pekka Luukkonen, who has been out sick, will go on the trip. Luukkonen skated with his teammates Saturday morning.

Notes: Okposo’s goal was his 600th NHL point. He has recorded 231 points with the Sabres, the 44th-highest total in franchise history. After going goalless in the first 19 games this season, he has scored four times in the last nine contests. … Sabres center Casey Mittelstadt skated a career-high 27 minutes, 1 second on Saturday. … Levi has stopped 60 of the 63 shots he has faced in two games since being recalled last week … The Sabres have today off.

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