BUFFALO – In the second period of Saturday afternoon’s 1-0 loss to the Vancouver Canucks, the Sabres had just three defensemen available, so they utilized winger Zemgus Girgensons on the back end for a few shifts.
The Sabres, of course, started the game with six defensemen. But 13 seconds into the second period, Filip Hronek elbowed Mattias Samuelsson in the head, knocking him into concussion protocol out of the contest. At 4:02, J.T. Miller elbowed Rasmus Dahlin, sending him into concussion protocol until late in the period.
Sabres defenseman Owen Power immediately jumped Miller. While they appeared to fight, Power received a roughing call and Miller a two-minute elbowing minor.
At 10:29, Sabres defensemen Erik Johnson fought Miller, more retribution for the suspect hit. They each received five-minute fighting majors.
“All these guys, we’re brothers in here,” Dahlin said. “I would do the same if it happened to someone else.”
He added: “Two hits to the head after each other. Shouldn’t happen.”
Despite losing two players to hits to the head, the Sabres did not receive one power play. No one questioned about the officiating would comment.
“It’s frustrating but I thought Zemgus stepped up,” said coach Don Granato, who liked the Sabres’ response to the hits.
Granato had no update on Samuelsson.
“I just hope he’s OK,” he said.
Sabres winger Casey Mittelstadt said, “there’s plays where we got to protect the players, especially the star players.”
For some of the latter half of the second period, the Sabres used Girgensons as a defenseman.
“He’s such a good teammate,” Dahlin said. “He does whatever to have a chance to win.”
The Sabres created plenty of chances to win Saturday before a crowd of 17,622 that braved a snowstorm to watch the game. They pumped 26 shots on goalie Thatcher Demko, who posted his fourth shutout this season.
They also clamped down against the Canucks, whose win bumped them into first overall in the NHL. Still, at this stage, they can’t settle for moral victories.
“We’re right there,” Sabres center Casey Mittelstadt said. “I think we’re on the right track. It’s just a matter of we’ve got to get hot soon and get going.”
Granato said: “We did a nice job of limiting them, nice job to play hard, had chances to win. But nobody’s going to be satisfied with that. I can assure you that our group is not. And, obviously, I’m not.”
Realistically, if the Sabres want to make a push up the standings and contend for a playoff spot, they need to win four times during their six-game home stand.
So far, they’re 1-2-0.
Sam Lafferty scored the game’s only goal, beating goalie Ukko-Pekka Luukkonen in close 2:05 into the second period. Thirty-nine seconds into the second, Brock Boeser’s goal was disallowed because the Canucks were offside.
Notes: Monday’s game at KeyBank Center against the San Jose Sharks has been moved up to noon from 12:30 p.m. so fans can watch the Bills’ home playoff game against the Pittsburgh Steelers at 4:30 p.m. … Sabres center Tage Thompson played despite suffering an upper-body injury Thursday. Winger Victor Olofsson skated in the pregame warm-up but was scratched. Olofsson, who was recently sick, has sat out four straight games and six of the last seven. The Sabres also made defenseman Henri Jokiharju a healthy scratch for the second straight game. Winger Jeff Skinner (upper body) missed his second contest. … Two former Sabres defenseman – Tyler Myers and Nikita Zadorov – played for the Canucks.