Buffalo Sabres forward Drew Stafford sat at his locker room stall with his head in his hands, clearly unhappy after a 2-1 shootout loss to the defending champion Pittsburgh Penguins Saturday night at the HSBC Arena.
The feeling throughout the Sabres’ dressing room was mutually discontent after dropping a hard fought contest, which forward Jason Pominville said was theirs to be had.
“I think our power play has to find a way to make a difference,” said Pominville of his team’s 26th ranked power play. “I’m sure they’re saying the same thing on their side, they didn’t score. But I definitely think that we could have won a game if we get one on the power play.”
Both teams’ unit with the man advantage was equally ineffective. Pittsburgh’s power play— which now ranks second to last in the league— went 0-for-5, with three unsuccessful tries in the third period. The Sabres, however, went 0-for-8, squandering four of those opportunities in the third period, as well as one more in the overtime frame.
“We definitely have to play better, especially when we got the goaltending that we did,” Pominville said. “Patty [Lalime] played great and made some big saves, but the power play could have made a difference.”
The game remained tied at one through four periods, before Penguins defenseman Kris Letang would score the lone goal in the shootout— a backhand over the right shoulder of Lalime.
“We played a good game. We were solid defensively,” said Lalime, who made 23 saves in defeat. “I think our penalty killing was very good. We played a good overall game. We had our chances but just couldn’t get the winning goal…I thought it was kind of a playoff game— a hard fought battle out there.”
Pominville opened the game’s scoring after tapping home a rebound off a Clarke MacArthur slap shot 15:05 into the first period. The Sabres looked more determined in the first period against Pittsburgh, opposed to the effort put forth in the opening period against Toronto on Friday, coach Lindy Ruff said.
Buffalo’s defense was able to control the high-powered Penguins’ offense for the majority of the game, nonetheless a minor slip up late in the first led to a Chris Kunitz goal to tie the game at one.
Pittsburgh was able to carry that momentum into the second period with a flurry of scoring chances, but could not solve Lalime.
“I felt good,” Lalime said. “Those guys were moving the puck a lot…It makes my job so much easier when our guys are boxing out and try to take the second chances away.”
During the second period, Penguins’ captain Sidney Crosby fired a cross-ice pass to fellow superstar Evgeni Malkin while on the man advantage, but the perennial all-star was unable to hit the open target.
“They had one power play that their shooters were a little bit off,” Ruff said. “Malkin missed a wide open net. I though the penalty killing was pretty aggressive on both sides besides that one power play where a couple of their special players had a couple of good opportunities.”
Either team was able to correct its futility on the power play in the third as well. Buffalo would come close in the final frame when forward Tim Connolly rang a low slap shot of the left goal post.
Goaltender Marc-Andre Fleury, however, stymied the Sabres’ offense, stopping 31 Buffalo shots, as well as all three in the shootout.
The Sabres’ power play has converted just once in its last 26 tries. And with the absence of Thomas Vanek on Saturday due to a abdominal injury, the unit has been unable to gel, Ruff said.
“We haven’t really practiced in a week, we really can’t” he said. “We’ll rest up and be ready to play again. We’ll have to do our best job through video to try and find a few seems to try and give them one more play.”
On a positive note, Ruff said he was pleased with his backup goaltender’s performance in his second straight start. Lalime made 39 saves in a 2-1 win over the Chicago Blackhawks on Dec. 11.
“I think it’s confidence,” Ruff said. “I think he feels good about the way he plays; when he went [down to Portland]. I think he feels good about the way he played his last game. That feeds into a lot of things.”
The Sabres will next travel north on Monday to take on division foe, Toronto Maple Leafs, in a 7 PM faceoff at the Air Canada Center.
This article is featured in The Record Student Press at Buffalo State College