A sellout crowd had little to cheer for in the annual “Tux & Pucks” game as the Sabres said good riddance to 2015 by dropping their third straight, a 2-1 loss to the New York Islanders at First Niagara Center Thursday night. The Sabres lack of scoring continues at home, netting just 41 goals in 21 games.
“I don’t know what that is,” O’Reilly said when told of that stat. “I feel we’re prepared to come play. Maybe it’s not getting to the right areas enough. Our net presence isn’t where it needs to be and that’s on myself too. When things aren’t going well, you have to simplify and go to harder areas. That’s one thing going forward. If we want to win and get out of this rut, we have to do that.”
Due to three straight power plays to start the first period, the Sabres held an initial 16-1 shots on goal margin. Thomas Greiss, the Isles backup, was solid in net all night, eventually stopping 42 shots and earning first star honors. Buffalo outshot the Islanders 43-33 in the game.
Franz Neilsen’s power play goal for the Isles opened the scoring in the second period. He jammed home his 14th of the year, putting up a loose puck past Ullmark. The Sabres challenged the goal, contending that Anders Lee used his stick to interfere with Ullmark, but the call was upheld.
Nikolay Kulemin gave the Isles a two-goal cushion, 2-0, scoring early in the third period. Kyle Okposo set him up with a sweet backhand pass, after collecting a bounce off the glass.
Ryan O’Reilly cut the deficit in half, 2-1, notching his 15th of the season, but that was as close as the Sabres would get. The goal put an end to Buffalo’s staggering 0-for-24 power play slump. With an assist on the goal, it gave Jack Eichel nine points in his last six games (2G, 7A) and seven points in his last four games (2G 5A).
“You come into the locker room thinking you have a lot of momentum and it’s still a tie game,” said rookie Jack Eichel. “It’s great to be getting chances because you know you’re playing pretty well. But we have to get over that hump and start to finish some of those opportunities we have.”
Ullmark played another strong game, making several highlight-reel saves, but the Sabres lack of offense negated his efforts.
“You don’t really want to talk about run support for a goaltender, but the last three games he’s been 2-0, 2-0 and now a 2-1 game for him where he’s given us a chance and played well in the net,” Bylsma said.
The Sabres have an opportunity to put their three game skid behind them and start the New Year on a positive note on Saturday. They’ll host the Detroit Red Wings in a 1 p.m. matinee at the First Niagara Center.