BUFFALO – In their seventh consecutive loss to open the season, a 2-1 setback to the Minnesota Wild on Monday, the hapless Sabres showcased some improvement before the 18,111 fans inside the First Niagara Center.
Yes, the defeat tied the franchise mark for worst-ever start. Yes, their feeble offense mustered only one goal again, raising their NHL-low total to seven.
But, hey, the Sabres, who began the night allowing a stunning 37 shots a contest, finally clamped down defensively, holding the Wild to 20 while outshooting an opponent for the first time this season.
Find some slivers of hope wherever you can.
“It stings because … it’s another loss,” Sabres co-captain Steve Ott said. “We’re in the business of winning and production. There are some bright spots. We finally outshot a team 23-20 and held them to 20 shots, which is outstanding. We come out on the losing end, lack of production from all of us, including myself. At the end of the day, losing’s just not the option.”
So far, losing’s been the only option. The Sabres (0-6-1) have started this poorly only twice before in 43 years: 0-4-3 in 1990-91 and 0-5-2 in 1999-00.
A loss tonight in New York against the Islanders would set a dubious new record.
“Obviously, it’s going to be hard to win with only one goal scorer,” said Sabres goalie Jhonas Enroth, who made 18 saves in his third start. “At the same time, I think we played pretty well. We were in charge pretty much the whole game. So it’s a good sign, I think.”
Despite limited work, Enroth looked sharp again. The Swede stymied popular former Sabres captain Jason Pominville point-blank early in his return to Buffalo, and then again late in the second period with the game tied at 1.
But seconds later, Pominville beat Enroth from the right circle for the power-play winner at 19:50, his 191st NHL goal.
“It was a good day; I think a good way to finish it, for sure,” Pominville said. “(I have) just so many good memories in this building and this city. So it was nice to get one and win it on top of that.”
The Sabres, meanwhile, haven’t received any clutch scoring all season.
“We need our top six to step up,” Sabres coach Ron Rolston said.
Other than some fine goaltending Enroth and Ryan Miller, little has gone right.
“It’s everybody, and it’s tough right now,” Ott said. “The mindset has to be you have to keep going at it. You have to continue to push. You got to continue to show effort, compete and battle.”
Ott said both goalies “have been at the top of their game” and their teammates “owe them.”
“They’re playing their hearts out and giving us a chance every single night, even the nights we are getting blown out,” Ott said. “We need to start pulling it together for those guys, at least.”
Minnesota’s Kyle Brodziak opened the scoring 5:23 into the game, converting Matt Cooke’s pass on a delayed penalty.
After a lighting malfunction delayed the start of the second period 16 minutes, Brian Flynn tied it 15:04, roofing his own rebound after Zemgus Girgensons’ hard work down the left wing created the opportunity.
Incredibly, the Sabres have scored two goals in a game once this season.
“Everyone’s a little frustrated,” Flynn said. “We just got to stay the course and trust the way we’re playing and the things we’re doing. If we just keep getting better every game, the results will come.”
Ott insisted “there’s no give-up.”
“It stings, it hurts the record we are right now,” Ott said. “I mean, the blessing is West is killing the East right now (in head-to-head action) and keeping us in it somehow and we haven’t even won a game. We need wins. We need to start getting points here. We need a lot more production from all our guys in here, including myself. We have to dig ourselves out of this.”