Craig Anderson allowed six goals before getting pulled Tuesday. ©2023, Micheline Veluvolu

Sabres’ defensive woes continue in loss to Predators: ‘We will get through this’

BUFFALO – Ten losses in their last 12 games. A ghastly 59 goals allowed during that wretched stretch, the NHL’s worst figure. Four defeats by at least four goals.

Right now, the Sabres are a disaster. A month that began with so much promise – legitimate playoff hopes, a rarity in these parts – has become a nightmare.

Tuesday’s ugly 7-3 loss to the Nashville Predators before a crowd of 13,043 fans at KeyBank Center was just the latest embarrassing setback.

The Predators led 2-0 at the end of the first period and scored on three of their first four shots during the second to grab a commanding 5-1 lead.

Remember, on Sunday afternoon the Boston Bruins throttled the Sabres 7-0. The Predators, coincidentally, also lost 7-0 to the New York Rangers that day, yet they regrouped and likely ended the Sabres’ ever-so-faint postseason hopes.

With 12 games left, the Sabres trail the Florida Panthers by seven points for the Eastern Conference’s final wild card spot.

“We’ll get through it,” Sabres coach Don Granato said confidently. “There’s no doubt. I can stand here with no doubt and tell you we will get through this. I have been through much more difficult and challenging situations as a coach. We will get through this. Completely confident.”

Teams, of course, usually tighten up defensively at this juncture of the season with the stakes so high. But the Sabres have consistently been breaking down, allowing breakaways, two-on-ones and giving up other easy chances against.

Clearly, the Sabres, an inexperienced group, are pressing. Only three players – goalie Craig Anderson, captain Kyle Okposo and winger Alex Tuch – have notable NHL playoff experience. Most of the roster has never played meaningful late-season games.

“We are as a team playing with anxiety,” Granato said. “It’s the first time for lots of guys they’ve been in the positions they’re in and feeling the pressure. You’re seeing players and a group not handling the pressure. They’re challenged to keep and do simple things because of pressure. You look at our team through the year, we’ve been in lots of situations. We know we have a good team and we know we have a team that’s a skilled and capable team.

“This is what happens when you first go through pressure. We struggled to make simple plays. It’s not system breakdowns. It’s pressure and feeling pressure of mistakes. Fearing mistakes.”

Sabres center Tage Thompson, who scored his 43rd goal in the second period, said “we’re going through things this group hasn’t gone through before.”

“It’s new for everyone,” he said. “It’s not an excuse, but it’s something we’re going to learn and grow together. … There’s a lot of pressure. We can feel that. I think it’s the first time in a while this team’s been close to playoffs. So we wanted to be the group that can push and get there. So with that comes that added pressure.

“But we got to learn how to play with that and … not complicate the game for ourselves.”

Many of the Sabres’ gaffes are self-inflicted. They’ve become tentative and often overthink. On offense, they consistently make extra passes instead of simply shooting the puck.

“You have to have the ability to keep things in the game simple, and that’s what we’re going to learn through this, how to keep it simple,” Granato said. “You just need to get through the neutral zone, you don’t need to make a perfect play through the neutral zone.”

The Sabres’ wonky goaltending has only added to their woes. Anderson allowed six goals on 20 shots before Granato replaced him with Ukko-Pekka Luukkonen 35:52 into the game. Luukkonen, who allowed seven goals Sunday, stopped all six shots he faced.

When Anderson made a simple save shortly before getting yanked, he received a Bronx cheer from the crowd. Granato acknowledged he thought about replacing the veteran earlier in the game.

The Sabres showed some life when center Dylan Cozens scored 3:36 into the second scored, narrowing the margin to 2-1. But Nashville’s Tommy Novak scored 24 seconds later to restore the two-goal lead.

The Predators led 6-1 before Thompson’s power-play goal at 17:17. Winger Jeff Skinner scored the Sabres’ other goal, his 30th. Rasmus Dahlin ended an eight-game point drought, assisting on Thompson’s goal. He’s the first Sabres defenseman to hit the 50-assist mark since Phil Housley in 1989-90.

Thompson, whose first-period hit briefly knocked Cody Glass out of the game, fought Kiefer Sherwood in the second period.

Matt Duchene and Luke Evangelista each scored twice for the Predators. Duchene had a late empty-net goal. Philip Tomasino and Ryan McDonagh scored their other goals.

Predators goalie Juuse Saros made 28 saves.

One thought on “Sabres’ defensive woes continue in loss to Predators: ‘We will get through this’”

  1. I understand the frustration, but giving Anderson a Bronx cheer is about as classless as it gets, considering his overall performance in goal the last 2 years. People’s expectations have been too high this year, and for the most part the Sabres have been able to meet those expectations until this past month. It’s disappointing missing the playoffs when they were so close, but the overall situation is still far better than the previous decade. There’s plenty of work to be done, but things are headed the right direction. Hopefully they get the ship righted before season’s end. The team is better than the most recent 10-15 games, which admittedly are very difficult to watch.

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