Buffalo goalie Ukko-Pekka Luukkonen watches Nashville’s Filip Forsberg as teammate Mattias Samuelsson (23) defends. ©2023, Micheline Veluvolu

Reeling Sabres lose game to Predators, Alex Tuch to injury

BUFFALO – Things keep getting worse for the Sabres. Not only did they lose again Sunday, their third straight setback and fourth in the last five games, winger Alex Tuch appeared to suffer a hamstring injury chasing down Filip Forsberg on a breakaway.

Tuch departed the 2-1 loss to the Nashville Predators about 7:34 into the third period and did not return. As Forsberg zoomed in on goalie Ukko-Pekka Luukkonen, Tuch grabbed his hamstring and left the ice.

Coach Don Granato said the Sabres will know more about Tuch, one of their top offensive threats, and three other injured forwards today, a scheduled day off for the reeling club.

Every NHL team endures slumps during an arduous 82-game schedule. Over the course of six months, sometimes you’re going to have a bad week or two.

But right now, the Sabres are struggling so badly that losing by a single goal represents progress.

On Sunday, they fell behind early again. Nashville led 2-0 by the 10:54 mark. Incredibly, they’ve been outscored 11-1 in the first period in their last five games.

“I feel like right now, it’s like it’s two different teams out there,” said Sabres center Dylan Cozens, who pumped seven shots on goal and had 11 attempts. “We play a completely different way when we’re down and that’s how we need to play right off the bat. We need to play like we’re desperate right off the bat before we get down two goals because it’s tough to come back from that.

“We’ve been doing that a lot lately, getting down early. We just need to have better starts.”

Last season, the Sabres’ potent offense ranked third overall and often got them out of trouble. This year, it ranks 21st. At home, they’ve mustered just 25 goals, the league’s third-worst totals.

Clearly, the Sabres have lost confidence and their struggles are on players’ minds.

“It’s absolutely on our guys’ mind,” Granato said. “… It starts with scoring first and everything else. And you walk near that locker room, and you hear them talking about it. So it is. You can’t run from it; you can’t hide from it. Yeah, it’s on their mind.

“And part of the process is dealing with pressure. We had lots of it last year. I mean, how many times we came in here and had to fight through certain things. And it’s finding the way to fight through it. And I have confidence the group will do that. They have done it in the past and I know they will in this case.”

Forsberg and Yakov Trenin put the Predators up early before the crowd of 14,644 fans in KeyBank Center. Luukkonen kept the Sabres in the game in the first period, making 12 of his 27 saves.

After winger Victor Olofsson scored on a penalty shot 10:54 into the second period, the Sabres found a rhythm and buzzed around goalie Juuse Saros the second half of the contest.

“We definitely got some momentum from that,” Olofsson said. “We kind of let loose a little bit. I felt like we really didn’t come out strong in the first. After we got scored on a couple times, we kind of let loose and were playing more freely. I feel that’s how we got play right from the get-go.”

Granato said: “We were a different team after that and needed to be a different team before that.”

Sabres winger Jordan Greenway missed Sunday’s game after suffering an apparent shoulder injury a night earlier.

Greenway, 26, left Saturday’s 6-2 road loss to the Carolina Hurricanes after the first period and did not return. He underwent shoulder surgery last year and battled the injury throughout the season.

Granato said the Sabres will know more about Greenway, center Tage Thompson and winger Zemgus Girgensons, two other injured regulars, today.

Thompson, out the last nine games with a hand or wrist injury, has been skating.

“Thompson’s been progressing great,” Granato said.

With Greenway injured, rookie winger Isak Rosen, 20, returned to the lineup following a one-game absence.

The Sabres made one change on defense, inserting rookie Ryan Johnson, 22, and scratching veteran Erik Johnson.

Granato said the Sabres discussed load management with Erik Johnson, 35, prior to the season and saw Sunday as an “opportunity for recovery.” He played the first 24 games.

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