Ukko-Pekka Luukkonen started his third straight game Friday. ©2023, Micheline Veluvolu

Sabres fall behind early in loss to Flyers; Mattias Samuelsson leaves with injury

BUFFALO – The final result, an ugly 5-1 loss, stings enough. The Sabres began Friday on a short roll, having won two straight games and three of their last four.

After a disappointing start this season, the Sabres appeared to have finally found a bit of a groove.

Ninety-one seconds into Friday’s game, they trailed 2-0. The Flyers had two shots on goal.

About five minutes later, Mattias Samuelsson, the Sabres’ sturdiest defenseman, departed the game with a lower-body injury and did not return. Coach Don Granato did not have an update on Samuelsson following the game.

Losing Samuelsson for an extended period of time would be significant. Last season, the Sabres had a terrific 32-18-4 record when he played and a 9-15-3 mark when he was injured.

If Samuelsson can’t play in tonight’s road game against the Toronto Maple Leafs, defenseman Jacob Bryson will likely move back into the lineup.

Fresh off Wednesday’s 5-2 win in Philadelphia, a game in which they were outshot 40-15, the Sabres looked downright awful before Samuelsson left. They imploded immediately, falling behind when Scott Laughton scored at 1:03. Louie Belpedio scored his first NHL goal 28 seconds later.

The Sabres never dug out of that massive hole.

“I just don’t think we played with enough urgency,” Sabres captain Kyle Okposo said. “We know that team comes out works and we have to try to match their work ethic and play with purpose. And I just don’t think we started the game with purpose.”

Granato said indecisiveness and “not playing direct” hurt the Sabres.

“That was the root of our problems, the root of our challenge tonight,” he said. “I thought there was enough generated to get breaks and the question would be, did you earn the break? We could have scored but let’s face it, we didn’t play the way we needed to play. It starts with playing faster and more direct and we were not direct enough, and that was the difference in the game. We weren’t decisive, direct.

“And when you’re doing that, you’re putting pucks where you can pressure them and when you’re not you’re overhandling the pucks. Overhandling it tonight cost us.”

Travis Konecny scored on a breakaway at 14:57, his ninth goal this season. The Flyers had a 9-4 shot advantage in the first, and when the period ended with the Sabres trailing 3-0, many in the crowd of 16,612 fans in KeyBank Center booed them off the ice.

“We didn’t get enough pucks behind them,” Okposo said. “We didn’t play the game that needed to be played. They outworked us in that first period, for sure, and that’s not something we’re going to take lightly and that’s not something we should ever be saying after a game is we got outworked. It’s frustrating.

“There’s going to be games where we’re flat, but coming off a game on Wednesday where we didn’t have our legs and we look a little bit complacent, to come out flat is disappointing.”

Garnet Hathaway made it 4-0 in the second period before Sabres defenseman Henri Jokiharju scored early in the third.

With Philadelphia up big, the Sabres began generating some pressure, and they outshot the Flyers 22-19 for the game.

The Sabres had finally started showcasing the slick offense they possessed last year, scoring 19 goals in their previous four games. Friday marked the third time this season they mustered just one goal.

Eleven games into the campaign, Okposo, center Peyton Krebs and winger Victor Olofsson haven’t scored. Winger Alex Tuch, who scored 36 times last season, has one goal.

Meanwhile, the power play, which often buoyed the Sabres last season, has converted just four of 37 chances this year. On Friday, center Casey Mittelstadt moved to the top unit and center Dylan Cozens shifted to the second.

“In a game like tonight, it could have changed momentum for us,” Granato said. “We did, obviously, shift Mittelstadt into that unit and it did look better as a result of that, but didn’t convert.”

Sabres defenseman Owen Power endured perhaps the worst outing of his career, registering a minus-5 rating.

After starting his third straight game, Sabres goalie Ukko-Pekka Luukkonen will likely rest tonight. Rookie Devon Levi is expected to play his first contest since Oct. 19.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *