BUFFALO – About that playoff race and those meaningful late-season games. If the Sabres don’t snap out of their funk soon and tighten up defensively, they’re going to be in familiar territory playing out the string.
The Sabres looked downright awful throughout Thursday’s embarrassing 10-4 loss to the Dallas Stars, their third straight setback and fifth in the last six games.
As the season progresses and the stakes get higher, defenses usually stiffen. Well, Thursday’s wretched effort was the Sabres’ worst in a long time.
They allowed double-digit goals for the first time since a 10-4 loss to the Ottawa Senators on Nov. 2, 2005.
“You’ve watched our team play,” Sabres coach Don Granato said. “That didn’t look like our team. We weren’t sharp. We, at points in that game, played with a little bit of frustration and not the fearless way we need to play, and that compounds and did so tonight.”
The Sabres ran around their own zone all night, constantly hanging goalie Eric Comrie out to dry. They trailed 3-0 by the 19:25 mark. After creeping within 5-3, the Stars scored five goals in the game’s final 10:48.
“We did not have it and it was pretty evident right from the beginning,” said Sabres captain Kyle Okposo, who scored for the second consecutive game. “We just seemed a little bit lifeless, a little tired. It’s just tough to play this time of the year when you’re not feeling your best and we just have to find a way to get that energy back and understand the position that we’re in.
“I know that we’re a young team, but we’re in a pretty special position with the group that we have.”
Right now, the Sabres trail the Pittsburgh Penguins by six points for the Eastern Conference’s final wild card spot. Remember, late last month the Sabres briefly owned that spot.
The Florida Panthers, Washington Capitals and Ottawa Senators are also ahead of the Sabres.
It’s going to be difficult for them to roar back and secure their first playoff spot since 2011.
For many Sabres, these recent games have been the biggest they’ve played in the NHL and the magnitude of them has possibly crept into their heads.
They looked hesitant and out of sync all night, drawing boos from the crowd of 14,174 fans at KeyBank Center.
“It looked like we were in our own head … because it didn’t look like us,” Granato said. “… Playing games with more pressure and heightened expectation is what we need.”
Sabres defenseman Rasmus Dahlin said: “I wasn’t sure if I was going to go or not in certain situations. I was sloppy. Yeah, it’s not OK. You can only look (at) yourself in the mirror and move on.”
The Sabres briefly got back into the game, pulling within two goals when winger Jeff Skinner scored 3:49 into the third period. Then they imploded late.
While Comrie allowed 10 goals, he also made 39 saves. Routine stops sometimes earned him Bronx cheers from disgruntled fans. He had won four straight starts entering the night.
“That’s on us, that’s not on him at all,” Okposo said. “Nobody is blaming him. He hung in there. We absolutely hung him out to dry and that can’t happen. Those turnovers in our zone, the carelessness when the game got out of hand there. That’s something you learn when you’re eight years old – you don’t hang your goalie out to dry and we did that tonight. Like I said, uncharacteristic of our group but something that’s going to be discussed.”
Granato said the Sabres considered a goaltending change before Skinner’s goal gave them some life.
“In in the third period you can’t do it at that point,” he said. “… I feel bad for him to bear what transpired the last 11 minutes. We weren’t good the first 49, but at the 49-minute mark it was a 5-3 game and the bottom fell out. Very tough on him and I don’t fault him for that.”
The Sabres don’t have to think back very far to remember some solid defensive efforts. In Monday’s 3-2 home loss to the Edmonton Oilers and Tuesday’s 3-2 road defeat to the New York Islanders, they played well enough to win.
On Tuesday, they lost on a late disputed goal, and Granato acknowledged that could’ve carried over into Thursday’s contest.
How do they move on from such a demoralizing loss?
“You cannot have fear or doubt because of this,” Granato said. “You just can’t. You’ve got to find a way to not. And that creeps in, it crept in in the middle of the game, fear and doubt. It’s only natural that it creeps in. But you have to knock that out. The faster, the better.”
Winger Jordan Greenway also scored for the Sabres, his first with Buffalo. Winger Victor Olofsson scored the Sabres’ other goal, ending a 15-game drought.
Radek Faksa scored twice for the Stars. Wyatt Johnston, Joe Pavelski, Jamie Benn, Joel Kiviranta, Ryan Suter, Evgenii Dadonov, Roope Hintz and Mason Marchment also tallied.