BUFFALO – Following the Sabres’ 2-1 loss Thursday, center Ryan O’Reilly wasn’t taking any solace in the improved power play they showcased against the New York Islanders.
Sure, the Sabres’ struggling power play got its first goal, an O’Reilly score, in eight games, ending a zero for 24 run. And early on, with rookie center Jack Eichel promoted to the top unit, the Sabres pumped seven shots on goal during their first chance, helping them seize momentum.
Thanks to three early power plays, the Sabres held shot advantages of 9-1 and 16-1 and outshot the Isles 17-5 in the opening period. Overall, the Sabres put 43 shots on Isles goalie Thomas Greiss, their second-highest total this season.
Still, the missed opportunities – they had a 54-second two-man advantage – were gnawing away at O’Reilly 10 minutes after the Sabres’ second straight loss and eighth in the last 12 games.
“We had a chance to take and game and run away with it and we didn’t,” O’Reilly said. “I remember coming off after the first, I was frustrated. That’s on myself. For us not to score on that and have that many shots, it’s just not good enough.”
Eichel, who has nine points in the last six games, added: “You put (17) on them in the first, you come into the locker room thinking you have a lot of momentum and it’s still a tie game.”
It wasn’t a tie game for long. Frans Nielsen’s power-play goal opened that scoring 9:35 into the second period. The Sabres challenged, believing Nielsen interfered with goalie Linus Ullmark as he poked for the puck in close. Nikolay Kulemin sealed the game 1:07 into the third period.
O’Reilly’s team-leading 15th goal – he converted a nifty Eichel feed from down low in the left circle – was the Sabres’ first power-play score since Dec 12.
The Sabres have score one or fewer goals 11 times this season. They have an NHL-low 41 home goals in 21 games this season, a paltry 1.95 average. Incredibly, their power play, one of the league’s best before its recent skid, still hasn’t converted a five-on-three this season.
“That’s killing us,” O’Reilly said.
But if they can keep playing like they did Thursday, they might start scoring soon.
“We did a lot of things you want to do in the game,” Sabres coach Dan Bylsma said. “In particular, the power plays in the first period. The shot lane was there, had good looks, net fronts, had guys lying in the crease, had a ton of opportunities. Tonight we just weren’t able to put them home. I think we just wanted to keep playing that way.”
Ullmark was the hard-luck loser again. The Sabres have scored one goal in his last three starts. The rookie has allowed only six goals but lost all three.