BUFFALO – Three straight losses. Two goal scorers. One hapless Sabres team barreling toward another lottery pick.
Five days into the new campaign, the Sabres, the NHL’s laughingstock last season, look just as bad as the wretched 2013-14 outfit that finished 30th overall.
Monday afternoon’s embarrassing 5-1 loss to the powerhouse Anaheim Ducks might rank as one of the ugliest home losses in team history.
The Western Conference power throttled the Sabres from the get-go, outshooting them 17-3 in the first period and a stunning 44-12 overall.
For the second straight season – and only the second time in franchise history – the Sabres have started 0-3. The team has never started 0-4.
“Sometimes if you have nothing good to say, it’s better not to say too much, especially after an outing like this,” a visibly agitated Sabres coach Ted Nolan said. “That was like an NHL team playing against a peewee team. They dominated us from start to finish, they did all the right things. Everything that we could do wrong we did do wrong.”
Nolan is usually measured in his remarks, never letting his emotions overwhelm him. Monday’s words were arguably his most pointed in his 11 months as coach.
Opponents have pumped at least 40 shots on the Sabres each game. They’re being outshot 131-57 overall. Two players – Tyler Ennis and Zemgus Girgensons – have scored the team’s four goals.
Only 79 games left, Sabres fans.
“You look at two forwards,” Nolan said, “probably those are the only two guys that worked. … This game is hard enough to play when you’re giving your best and giving everything you’ve got. When you don’t, these game like tonight are going to happen.”
Penalty trouble doomed the Sabres early. Eighteen seconds into the tilt, Andre Benoit, a defenseman one mistake away from the press box, was whistled for hooking.
“That seems to be the theme right now,” Ennis said. “We’re in the box way too much, especially in the first period. We’re killing for eight minutes of the 20-minute period. They’re going to have momentum.”
Torrey Mitchell took a hooking penalty minutes later. Benoit earned another hooking call later in the period. When Andrej Meszaros, Benoit’s struggling partner, went off for boarding, Corey Perry opened the scoring at 15:30.
“Two steps ahead, and we try to catch up and out of position, not strong enough, not committed enough,” Nolan said. “No desperation, that’s the bottom line. To me, that’s probably the most frustrating.”
He added: “We haven’t got a whole lot of superstars on our team. … The only way you’re going to stay in this league is you got to play with some kind of desperation, some kind of want that you actually want to play.”
The Sabres play the Hurricanes tonight in Carolina in a matchup of the league’s only pointless teams. Expect some lineup changes.
“I told the guys yesterday, ‘Don’t confuse my patience with avoidance. Never do that,’” Nolan said. “It’s very frustrating.”
The Sabres have two spare defensemen, Tyson Strachan and Nikita Zadorov, ready to play.
“We’ll sort this out and find out who really actually wants to play,” Nolan said. “If we have to play two lines … so be it.”
Nolan wants to see how some fresh players react.
“If they react the same way, we know what we got,” he said.
Ducks rookie William Karlsson scored his first two NHL goals. Matt Belesky also scored. With the Ducks up 4-0 late, Ennis scored for the second straight game.
Ryan Kesler scored on a penalty shot minutes later after Benoit hauled him down on a breakaway.
Many of the 18,912 fans then streamed out of the First Niagara Center.
“This is one of the premier teams in the league,” Nolan said. “It shows you exactly how far we need to go.”
Generating at least a little offense would help the Sabres.
“You just try to shoot the puck down the ice 12, 15 times, you might hit the net 10 times,” Nolan said. “It was bad.”
Ennis said about the shot total: “That’s the first I think I’ve ever experienced that. So we need to learn from it. We need to be mad. We need to be angry.”
The Sabres actually won the last home game an opponent outshot by 32 or more, a 2-1 triumph against Washington on Dec. 29.
Former Sabres goalie Ryan Miller starred that day. On Monday, goalie Michal Neuvirth, fresh off a terrible preseason, made his first start this season.
“I felt good,” Neuvirth said. “Five goals against, that’s a lot, and that’s too much.”