Alex Tuch tries to score Saturday on St. Louis goalie Joel Hofer. ©2024, Micheline Veluvolu

Sabres lose again, need more compete: ‘We have to find another gear’

BUFFALO – If you believe time hasn’t run out for the 14th-place Sabres, then the clock is certainly ticking loudly. Two losses last week likely extinguished their faint hopes of entering the playoff chase.

With their season essentially on the line, the Sabres scored just two total goals. In Saturday afternoon’s 3-1 loss to the St. Louis Blues before 16,726 fans in KeyBank Center, they created offense again but refused to pay a price to complete their chances.

“We need to elevate work ethic, compete level, specifically to the net,” Sabres coach Don Granato said. “Period.”

Sure, the Sabres did some things well in their two losses. They pumped 34 shots on goal Saturday and 46 in Tuesday’s 2-1 loss to the Dallas Stars.

Still, with an NHL-record 13th straight playoff DNQ staring them in the face, they couldn’t showcase enough grit to get to the net.

“We have to find another gear,” Sabres captain Kyle Okposo said. “It seems like we’re stuck in third gear. Yeah, we’re playing well. We’re playing better. But we have more. I know we have more. I know this group has more. I know we’re a better team than that. We’re just missing a little bit of jam.”

Okposo said the Sabres need more “assertiveness” and “willingness to get to the net” for those second and third chances.

“Just putting the puck in, competing and grinding,” he said. “We had all day in the offensive zone to kind of make plays and skate around, but the urgency to score, the jam that we need in our game, just isn’t quite there.

“It doesn’t mean we’re not playing hard. We have more gears than we’re showing.”

Is Okposo surprised it’s February – 51 games and four months into the season – and he’s talking about the Sabres trying to find another level?

“I’m surprised,” he acknowledged. “I mean, it wouldn’t have been where I thought we would be going into the season. Hindsight is 20-20, but I can sit back and look at things that we did or we didn’t do and there’s a lot of things that go into where we are. That’s gonna have a ripple effect, for sure, on our team.

“We just have to try to find another gear here because time is running out.”

On Saturday, Jake Neighbours’ power-play goal 12:53 into the game marked the 31st time an opponent has scored first on the Sabres this season. The Sabres, however, tied it 51 seconds into the second period when St. Louis’ Matthew Kessel knocked the puck into his own net past goalie Joel Hofer during a scramble in front. Okposo received credit.

“It’s kind of a greasy goal,” Sabres winger Jeff Skinner said. “They put it in, so it seemed like it kind of felt like we were going to get a bounce and we were maybe going to get an easy one. That’s just not the way it’s going for us right now, so we just have to dig deep and find a way to get other ones until things start feeling better for us.”

Granato acknowledged the message to get to the net isn’t “sinking in consistent enough.”

“You feel good about generating chances, generating chances,” he said. “It’s not a natural. That takes time for guys to natural go all the time, make it a habit. We’re talking about something that needs to become a habit, an ingrained habit.”

Jordan Kyrou restored the lead 4:32 into the second, a period in which the Sabres outshot the Blues 14-4. Neighbors’ second goal sealed the game 18:03 into the third.

The Sabres appeared to have a four-minute power play coming late in the third period when Colton Parayko high-sticked winger Jordan Greenway in the face.

Following a review, however, officials rescinded the power play because Greenway was bent over as they battled.

“(The Blues) were explaining they had the same call against them last game and they had no penalty, so I don’t know,” Okposo said. “That was the call on the ice and we’ve gotta live with that.”

Greenway returned to the game.

Notes: Sabres goalie Ukko-Pekka Luukkonen looked sharp while making 23 saves. … The Sabres were scoreless in three power-play chances. They rank 30th in the NHL on the man advantage. … The Sabres are 11-14-1 at home this season. … The Sabres had two healthy scratches: winger Victor Olofsson and defenseman Jacob Bryson. Olofsson, a 28-goal scorer last season, has sat out 12 of the last 15 contests. … Former Sabres defenseman and Rochester Americans assistant coach Mike Weber is in his first season as an assistant coach with the Blues.

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