Tage Thompson (72) skates by former teammate Ilya Lyubushkin on Monday. ©2024, Micheline Veluvolu

Sabres can’t put Ducks away in awful loss: ‘Gave them free chances’

BUFFALO – Almost halfway through Monday afternoon’s embarrassing 4-3 loss, the Sabres had the Anaheim Ducks on the ropes.

At that point, the Sabres had dominated the Ducks, outshooting them by about 20 as they generated a slew of prime scoring chances, including some breakaways.

Fourteen seconds after center Tage Thompson’s power-play goal put the Sabres’ up 2-1, the Ducks took another penalty.

Another goal, even with 30 minutes remaining, likely would’ve broken the Ducks. After Saturday’s 9-2 shellacking by the Toronto Maple Leafs, they seemed uninterested in competing as they closed their four-game road trip.

But the Sabres failed to score during their power play and, suddenly, the Ducks had some life before the crowd of 17,229 fans in KeyBank Center.

By the end of what would become a disastrous second period, the Ducks, who rank 30th in the 32-team NHL, led 4-3.

What the heck happened? In a season full of head-scratching losses, Monday’s might be the worst.

“I don’t think it got away as much as we didn’t put it away,” Sabres coach Don Granato said. “Breakaway, breakaway, and the right guys having breakaways between Thompson and (Jordan) Greenway.”

To be fair, despite giving up just 15 shots on goal, the Sabres committed what captain Kyle Okposo called “self-inflicted” mistakes. For example, Frank Vatrano scored the first of his two goals 11:59 into the second period following Thompson’s giveaway deep in his own zone.

“We were just sloppy with the puck,” Thompson said. “Obviously, I had a bad turnover that cost us and all the goals we got were just gifts that we gave them. They didn’t really have to work for anything. We just gave them free chances, free opportunities.”

Their penchant for freebies is one of many reasons why a season that began with playoff talk has the Sabres mired in 13th place, far out of the wild card race.

Yes, the Sabres have cut down their goals against, an area they sorely needed to improve this season. Still, they look nothing like the slick team that scored 293 goals a year ago, the league’s third-highest total.

In trying to round out other areas of their game, they’ve lost much of what made them so dangerous. So far, they’ve scored 161 goals, putting them on pace for 240 this season.

“We’ve gotten better in those areas (we targeted),” Granato said. “And then, obviously, the numbers show what’s not there is what we know this team … can be very good at: scoring. Right? It’s all going to come back at some point and the foundation is going to be stronger.”

But right now, that foundation looks a bit wonky.

Granato, whose Sabres fell one win shy of ending their 12-year playoff drought last year, said “this entire season is new territory.”

“Our guys that have moved up and have helped move this group up feel a little bit more pressure, a little bit more obligation, and it’s learning to deal with that and let it go enough that they can let their talents and skill take over, trusting that,” he said.

The Sabres certainly displayed their skill early Monday. Fresh off Saturday afternoon’s come-from-behind 3-2 overtime road win against the Minnesota Wild, they pounced on the Ducks early, outshooting them 15-4.

Greenway opened the scoring, his third goal in the last four games, before Adam Henrique tied it.

Even after Vatrano’s second-period goals put the Ducks up, rookie winger Zach Benson tied it.

Then Troy Terry restored their lead at 18:56, scoring alone in front of Sabres goalie Ukko-Pekka Luukkonen, who had perhaps his toughest outing since December.

In the waning minutes, Ducks goalie John Gibson thwarted Thompson’s attempt to tie the game by gloving the puck with his arm extended on the ice.

“I thought it was going in,” Thompson said. “Obviously, a pretty athletic save by him. I thought maybe his glove was in the net. Those are chances that you have to bear down and find a way to put it in the net.”

The Sabres recalled goalie Dustin Tokarski and defenseman Kale Clague from the Rochester Americans prior to the game.

Tokarski, 34, backed up Luukkonen because goalie Eric Comrie is sick, according to Granato. Tokarski also dressed for Thursday’s 4–0 loss to the Florida Panthers when Luukkonen had a lower-body injury.

Granato said the Sabres have been dealing with illness.

The Sabres summoned Clague, 25, after sending him to the Amerks on Sunday so he could play. He skated in the pregame warm-up but was scratched.

To create a roster spot, the Sabres placed defenseman Owen Power (upper body) on injured reserve.

Notes: The Sabres also scratched winger Victor Olofsson (healthy). … Thompson and rookie defenseman Ryan Johnson played against their fathers (Brent and Craig), both of whom are assistant coaches for Anaheim. … Ducks defenseman Ilya Lyubushkin played his first game in Buffalo since the Sabres traded him Aug. 19. … Gibson made 34 saves.

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