For the second straight game, Buffalo’s much-maligned defense showed dramatic improvement, but it failed to secure a second straight victory as the offense went utterly cold against the visiting Florida Panthers.
“We played a solid first period then made some poor choices that led to penalties,” said Sabres head coach Phil Housley following the loss. “We got away from what we were doing well and our defense got worn down.”
While neither team played a particularly vigorous first period – which saw the Sabres and Panthers combine for just 14 shots – it was Buffalo who found the scoreboard first.
Their earliest sign of offense came in a form that’s been unfamiliar of late – a power play goal. The tally came at 13:02 of the opening period, when Kyle Okposo tapped home a shot from Victor Antipin while parked in front of the Florida crease. The goal was Buffalo’s first with the man advantage in four games, and only their second in the previous 26 opportunities; a troubling stat that’s the culprit behind their 30th-ranked power play.
Their scoring never came back to life, while the Panthers gradually found some gusto as the game went on. Buffalo’s defense was weathered away as the offense went dormant, leading to four straight Florida goals. The Panthers’ first tally came during a breakdown in the Buffalo crease during the second period, where the Panthers were allowed to toss multiple shots point blank at Robin Lehner before Evgenii Dadanov finally beat him.
The last goal that Lehner would surrender came early in the third period on a perfectly-placed shot from Ian McCoshen, who managed to slip one through what scant room Lehner left between himself and the pipe. Florida’s final two goals were effortless empty netters from Aleksander Barkov and Vincent Trocheck.
Lehner’s efforts were more than admirable on the evening, as he stopped 27 of 29 Florida shots, including one particular robbery in the first where he booted away a 1-on-0 chance by Florida following a giveaway in the Buffalo zone. The penalty kill also stood tall, never relenting against any of the Panthers’ three power play opportunities.
But on a night where Lehner was making more saves than Buffalo was shots on net, the ultimate culprit falls to everyone outside the Sabres’ crease. With the loss, Buffalo falls to a depressing tie for dead last in the Eastern Conference – a tie that only exists because they have a game in hand on the Panthers.
“We’ve got to find a way to be more consistent,” Kyle Okposo simply lamented post-game.
Buffalo will have little time to waste in getting their skates under them again. They’ll head out to Montreal tonight to meet with the Canadiens for a Saturday evening meeting in the Bell Center. That game between these two longtime rivals will be their first since Buffalo’s opening night on the regular season, where they dropped a heartbreaking 3-2 shootout loss at home inside the KeyBank Center.