Rasmus Ristolainen vies for the puck with Tampa Bay’s Victor Hedman on Tuesday. ©2017, Hickling Images, Olean Times Herald

Sabres blanked again by Lightning

BUFFALO – Winger Evander Kane paused for a moment following the Sabres’ second straight shutout loss. The veteran wanted to collect his thoughts, not mince any words.

With Tuesday’s 2-0 defeat to the Tampa Bay Lighting, the Sabres have been blanked in back-to-back games for the first time since Oct. 17 and 18, 2014, some of the franchise’s darkest days.

Back then, the Sabres fielded the NHL’s weakest lineup. Winning wasn’t a priority.

These days, they possess a slew of established goal scorers, yet little has changed. They can’t win or score.

“It’s just a lack of hardness, we got to bear down and score goals, you got to be (ticked) off,” Kane said after the Sabres’ ninth loss in 10 outings. “You’re a goal scorer and you’re not scoring? Like, that should (tick) you off, that should make you want to score, that should should make you want to throw every puck you possibly can to the net.”

But the reeling Sabres hardly do that enough. Most goals are scored around the net, where a price must be paid.

“We’ve got to find a way to make it more difficult and we’ve got to get in the trenches and get a dirty goal,” said coach Phil Housley, whose Sabres lost 3-0 on Saturday in Montreal. “When’s the last time we got one of those?”

The Sabres haven’t scored since winger Kyle Okposo’s empty-netter late in Friday’s 3-1 win against Edmonton, their only victory over the last three weeks.

At 6-15-4, the Sabres have 16 points, the Eastern Conference’s lowest total. Right now, they’re on pace for 52 points. When they finished last overall in 2013-14 and 2014-15, they earn 51 points and 54 points, respectively.

Yes, the 2017-18 Sabres could be worse than those awful teams.

Simply scoring a goal Tuesday would’ve been notable. The Sabres pressed late, yet couldn’t beat Lightning goalie Andrei Vasilevskiy.

“We’re chasing the game,” Sabres defenseman Rasmus Ristolainen said following a long sigh.

The Sabres played OK at times, stopping a lethal offense while outshooting the Lightning 34-26.

“It’s a funny game when you go through difficult times,” Housley said. “You’re playing the top team in the East and you’re coming away 0-0. The game is going sort of the way you it to go – we didn’t give them too much, they didn’t give us too much.”

Goals from defensemen Mikhail Sergachev and Braydon Coburn bounced in off Sabres. Incredibly, the Sabres’ defense has scored zero goals this season.

“The bottom line is we outchanced a team, we outshot a team, but I just don’t think we’re making it difficult enough on the other goaltender,” Housley said.

The Sabres also rarely make it difficult for opponents early.

“We need to play with more desperation from the start of the game,” Housley said. “We can’t be waiting and chasing games, and then we have to shorten the bench and all of a sudden we have the urgency when we’re sort of backed into a corner.

“We have to some attitude when we start the game. This is our home rink. We’ve got to get out and establish a forecheck, show more emotion on the ice.”

Kane said: “That’s what we’re lacking, the mental preparation to come ready to play. We shouldn’t have to create the emotion, but some nights you have to create it.”

The Sabres’ constant losing has made KeyBank Center an easy rink for opponents to visit. They’re 3-8-1 at home this season.

“This needs to be an arena no matter what that’s tough to play in, you come out of this arena with a bunch of bruises and it’s tough to play here,” Sabres goalie Robin Lehner said.

The Sabres announced a crowd of 17,569 on Tuesday, although there were chunks of empty seats all over. Not surprisingly, crowds have gotten smaller while fans have grown more frustrated.

It’s common for the Sabres to be booed at the end of periods.

The Sabres received a huge scare at the end of the second period when Ristolainen left the ice holding his arm after Coburn hit him into the net.

“I don’t know what happened, I didn’t have the puck, it was hard to see,” said Ristolainen, who returned for the third period.

Housley said Ristolainen suffered a stinger.

“He’s the one guy that did show emotion tonight and coming back after that, he’s moving in the right direction,” Housley said.

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