BUFFALO – Throughout their dizzying two-month run of injuries, as the Sabres plummeted down the Eastern Conference standings, they kept using the missing regulars as a crutch.
Coach Lindy Ruff said he didn’t want to make excuses, yet repeated how he wanted his team back. Then owner Terry Pegula took it a step further, saying they had to “get Humpty back together.”
Well, the Sabres essentially fielded their normal team for the 10th straight game Friday.
They lost again, this time a 4-3 shootout to the Montreal Canadiens, their fourth consecutive setback.
Incredibly, the loss and Carolina’s win over San Jose kicked the Sabres, a preseason Stanley Cup pick by many, into 15th place, the basement.
“I’m obviously very disappointed, embarrassed,” said Ruff, whose club has only 55 points. “We’ve dealt with a lot. But to be where we’re at is a big disappointment.”
Sabres goalie Ryan Miller added: “That’s pretty embarrassing. No other word for it, really.”
The Sabres appeared to be turning a corner once they reached full strength Jan. 24 in New Jersey. They won that night, the start of a 5-0-1 stretch. Now they’ve earned just one of a possible eight points.
Time’s running out. They trail eighth-place Toronto by nine points. The bigger obstacle might be overtaking seven teams in the standings, though.
“We need two points,” Sabres captain Jason Pominville said. “We can’t get one points and lose three, get a point, lose three. It has to be win after win after win – and we got to get on a roll.”
One night after a wretched implosion in which they gave up seven straight goals and lost 7-2 in Philadelphia, the Sabres played much better, especially five-on-five.
But special teams bit them again.
The Canadiens rallied from a goal twice –one second after a penalty expired and on the power play – negating two hard-earned leads.
“We got to do a better job on our penalty kill and staying out of the box,” Pominville said. “It might’ve cost us a game again.”
Ruff was furious with penalty-takers Thomas Vanek and Nathan Gerbe, benching them both to send a “message.”
Vanek played only 16:26, Gerbe only 12:06. Vanek has a whopping 46 penalty minutes this season.
“It’s an issue that has to be dealt with,” Ruff said. “It’s something that I’ve talked to him at length about at different times. That’s just that type of penalties early (cross-checking) that referees likes to call. … He’s taking way too many penalties.”
Somehow, the Sabres’ power play is worse than their penalty killing. With a zero of three effort Friday, the power play is four of 50 since Jan. 1.
The Sabres blew a golden chance in the final minute of overtime, although they generated some ohhs and ahhs from capacity crowd of 18,690 inside the First Niagara Center.
In the shootout, Max Pacioretty and David Desharnais scored in the first two rounds, ending the Habs’ six-game losing streak to the Sabres. Miller got a piece of both shots.
“No excuse not to get two points right there,” said Miller, who made 16 saves , 11 less than counterpart Carey Price. “We had opportunities. I need to make a save at some point in the shootout, at least give us a chance to score one.”
Robyn Regehr’s point blast opened the scoring 4:16 into the game, the defenseman’s first goal since March 1, a 70-game stretch. It was just the 30th tally of his 879-game career.
Just after a power play expired, the much-maligned Tomas Kaberle zoomed in from the point, tying it at 11:25, his second goal.
In his 200th NHL game, Tyler Myers made it 2-1 at 15:43 from the right circle, his 100th NHL point and first score in 10 games.
But like Thursday, the Sabres couldn’t hold the lead again.
At 19:46, the underachieving Scott Gomez, who might endure more criticism than any NHL player, tipped in Yannick Weber’s shot on the power play. It was just the center’s second goal in 58 games dating back to Feb. 5, 2011.
“This was a game that we should’ve put away but didn’t,” Ruff said. “Those are points that cost you dearly. The early discipline probably gave them just a little bit of life.
Chris Campoli put Canadiens up for the first time at 11:28.
Seconds earlier, Sabres rookie Zack Kassian held the puck on a scoring chance, skated around the net and dished out front, causing a turnover.
Tyler Ennis tied it 11:55 into the third period, however.