BUFFALO – Three straight losses. Two total goals. One team searching for confidence.
The rebuilding Sabres have become a mess again without the veterans they traded before the NHL’s trade deadline.
“We have what we have,” interim Sabres coach Ted Nolan said. “We got to work through it. We got to get better.”
In Tuesday’s boring 4-1 loss inside the First Niagara Center, they generated little against the Nashville Predators, sprinkling only 24 shots on goals.
“Their confidence is a little bit rattled right now,” Nolan said. “But … through tough times like this you find out true characters of certain players. Through some ashes sometimes there rises some people.”
Winger Drew Stafford, who played a season-high 23 minutes, has emerged as the Sabres’ top leader recently, earning his alternate captaincy back while enjoying perhaps the best offensive stretch of his eight-year career.
“Right now, we’re playing for pride,” said Stafford, who has eight goals and 14 points in his last 15 games following a first-period power-play score. “We’re playing to not be embarrassed out there. We’re not going to quit. We’re not going to mail it in because our fans don’t deserve that. We’re building for the future here, and we want to establish a right way to do things.”
The Predators had scored three goals during a four-game losing streak before Monday’s 4-3 overtime triumph in Ottawa, a game they blew a 3-0 lead.
Still, the Predators can clamp down defensively.
“Nashville’s been Nashville for a long time,” Nolan said. “(Coach) Barry Trotz does a great job with that team. They do the same thing over and over and over. That was no surprise.”
After Stafford scored at 2:09, Nick Spaling tied it at 17:10, tipping Shea Weber’s shot from the top of the right circle past Sabres goalie Jhonas Enroth. Weber possesses perhaps the NHL’s most lethal shot, but the defenseman put a changeup toward the goal.
Weber didn’t hold back 3:33 into the second period, beating Enroth with a wicked wrist shot from the same spot.
Enroth knew he couldn’t do much.
“That was a good shot,” Enroth said.
Craig Smith sealed it at 7:51.
In his first game against the Sabres since getting traded two years ago, Paul Gaustad fought Zenon Konopka after Konopka hit Viktor Stalberg. Gaustad later scored an empty-netter.
“I think he kind of took a little bit of liberties on Stalberg, but I give Konopka credit for standing in there,” Gaustad said. “It’s respectable for a guy to fight like that. It’s something where he would probably do the same for any of his teammates. That’s kind of the thing we do around here.”
Gaustad, who played seven seasons with the Sabres, said “it’s good to be back.” Some of the 18,659 fans chanted “Goose,” his nickname, following the scrap.
“I didn’t know when I was here if they were booing me or saying my name,” he said. “Some of the best fans and people on earth, salt-of-the earth people. Got a lot of friends and family still here.”