BUFFALO – These days, as the Sabres’ awful season mercifully winds down, their efforts have remained strong.
Sure, they’re badly outmatched every game. But tenacity and strong goaltending has leveled things out a bit, keeping them in some contests.
“We can’t ask for much more,” coach Ted Nolan said Saturday following the Sabres’ 2-0 loss to the New York Rangers, their sixth straight defeat.
Well, scoring a goal would help now and then.
They hung with the slick Rangers, dodging bullets all night against the Eastern Conference powerhouse. Still, they couldn’t exploit rookie goalie Mackenzie Skapski, who made 20 saves for his first NHL shutout.
Eventually, Rangers defenseman Keith Yandle scored 7:31 into the third period, generating a loud roar from the bipartisan capacity crowd of 19,070 fans inside the First Niagara Center.
Skapski has played two NHL games, both wins against the Sabres. The 20-year-old allowed a goal 14 seconds into his NHL debut on Feb. 20, a 3-1 Rangers win here.
So Skapski, Cam Talbot’s backup as star goalie Henrik Lundqvist recovers from a neck injury, has a shutout streak of 119 minutes, 46 seconds against the Sabres.
“It all started with the first one,” Skapski said, “and now tonight I don’t think you could script it any better. Our defense and our forwards were excellent as always.”
Naturally, the Sabres wanted to exploit Skapski, who made 24 saves in his only previous outing.
“Obviously, that was the game plan coming in,” Sabres defenseman Mike Weber said. “His only two NHL wins are against us, his only two NHL games are against us. I mean, we tried to come at him a little bit harder than our last outing at home against them.”
The Sabres did that, generating some strong opportunities early. Skapski stopped Tyler Ennis’ first-period breakaway with his mask as Rangers defenseman Marc Staal hectored the Sabres’ top scorer.
Nolan said Ennis should’ve been awarded a penalty shot. Ennis said the play was clean.
“He got whacked four times,” Nolan said. “But when you’re in our position, you don’t get quite the calls you like, either. We had our chances.”
Martin St. Louis’ empty-net goal sealed the game late.
The Sabres wasted another strong outing from goalie Anders Lindback. In his fifth straight appearance and 100th NHL game, the Swede looked sharp again, stopping 31 shots.
“You can see the progression of him getting better and better and better, his confidence really coming,” Nolan said.
But Lindback still hasn’t won a game since the Sabres acquired him from Dallas last month.
“Obviously, it’s frustrating,” Lindback said. “We just have to keep plugging.”
The Sabres made one lineup change, scratching defenseman Zach Bogosian, their top minute-muncher.
“He tweaked just a little something this morning, lower body,” Nolan said. “We thought maybe one game would be (better) than losing him for four or five. Hopefully, he’ll be back next game.”
Andre Benoit replaced Bogosian.