BUFFALO – Sabres center Tage Thompson stood in the dressing room following another loss, visibly agitated, trying to explain what went wrong against the Montreal Canadiens.
In falling 3-1 on Monday to their rebuilding opponent, the Sabres’ underwhelming start officially moved into the concerning category.
Yes, they have 76 games left, starting with tonight’s road contest against the Ottawa Senators. But their 2-4-0 mark has them sharing the Atlantic Division basement with the Florida Panthers. Of course, a win tonight could vault them up to fourth place.
Still, the Sabres already trail the Boston Bruins and Detroit Red Wings by six points. Heck, Montreal, which has played five games, has a three-point lead on them.
Much of Thompson’s frustration can be traced to how well the Sabres played Monday before a bipartisan crowd of 13,507 fans in KeyBank Center. Fresh off Saturday’s 3-1 win over the New York Islanders, a season-best effort, they outplayed the Canadiens, outshooting them 37-27.
“I thought we controlled the play,” Thompson said.
The Sabres, however, couldn’t finish their chances on goalie Jake Allen, who improved to 8-3-1 in his career against Buffalo. The Canadiens, meanwhile, capitalized on their opportunities – Brendan Gallagher broke the tie 3:13 into the third period – and killed a late power play as they clung to a one-goal lead.
In the last two games, the Sabres have pumped 80 shots on goal while sometimes dominating the opposition, but only scored four times.
“It’s frustrating, but I think as soon as you let frustration set in, negativity, you’re never going to get out of it,” said Thompson, who has scored just once this season. “I think goals come in waves … you get streaky. You just got to do the right things every shift. I thought tonight we did. Obviously, that’s why that one hurts so much. But we can’t change anything. We got to play like that.
“That’s two games we’ve strung together in a row now that I think we took away the will of the other team, had them kind of defeated mentally. And, obviously, they get one in the third there it gives them some life. But we keep playing like that, that’s a winning recipe. We’re going to win a lot of games playing like that.”
But coach Don Granato said the Sabres couldn’t reach the net with “enough conviction and determination.”
So far, the Sabres, who scored 293 goals last season, have mustered just 13 this season. Granato believes focusing on their defensive structure has taken away some of their offense.
“But the scoring, this team and this group will score,” he said. “Yeah, it’s frustrating tonight. You had numerous chances that they didn’t convert on. But I do think, as I said, when you’re struggling to score, go to the net more. Be willing to score maybe the ugly one, the grittier one. And that’s how you resolve it. I think that we will.”
Winger Jeff Skinner’s first-period power-play goal, his team-leading third, tied the game. But in the first two weeks of the season, most of the Sabres’ top scorers have been held in check.
Thompson, who registered five shots on goal Monday, has a whopping 15 in the last two games. He might be close to breaking out. Winger Alex Tuch, however, has struggled this season, compiling just one assist.
“We need to get him going more than he is at this point, let’s just say that,” Granato said. “… We’ll spend a little more time with Tuchy and try to get him going in the right direction. But he’s a big asset that I don’t think he’s found his game yet.”
Sabres goalie Eric Comrie has quickly found his game. He looked sharp in his second straight start.
“Coms stood on his head, made a lot great saves,” Thompson said. “We just got to put it in the back of the net.
Justin Barron’s first-period goal put the Canadiens up early. Tanner Pearson’s late power-play goal sealed it.
The Sabres closed their four-game home stand 2-2-0. Defenseman Rasmus Dahlin recorded an assist for the fifth straight game, tying his career-high streak.