The Buffalo Sabres entered their contest against the Philadelphia Flyers on Saturday determined to end their four-game skid, building up a lead right out of the gate.
Then it all fell apart.
Two stinkers of periods extended the Sabres’ losing streak to five with a 6-2 defeat, and both players and coaches were left wondering how it all happened.
“Once we got to two goals, we thought it was going to be an easy game and we stopped checking,” coach Phil Housley said. “We didn’t check right to the end, and we sort of left them out there, especially the fourth, fifth and sixth goals. That was tough.”
Captain Jack Eichel was also peeved about the Sabres’ lack of finish on Saturday.
“That’s not us,” Eichel said.“The (10-game winning) streak we were on, that’s over. It means nothing now. Now I think we’re losing sight of what’s made us successful. We haven’t worked,really. That’s a prime example.
“I just thought they outworked us for 40 minutes. That’s why the game ended up 6-2. It’s frustrating.”
Everything seemed to be going well after the opening faceoff. Eichel beat Flyers goaltender Anthony Stolarz with a wrist shot stick side to put the Sabres on the board, and scored again on a deflection from a shot via the point off of Lawrence Pilut’s stick. A two-goal lead with 7:58 to go was indeed a promising start.
But then Buffalo’s problems began, and the Flyers’ fortunes started to turn around. James van Riemsdyk cut the lead in half with a wrist shot that beat Linus Ullmark clean, getting Philly on the scoresheet before going into intermission. Midway through the second period, Ivan Provorov tied the game at two for the Flyers after a scrum in the corner led to the puck popping out and onto Provorov’s stick – who found the back of the net through the goaltender’s five-hole.
During the same stanza of play, the officials made two questionable non-calls. Midway through, Flyers winger Dale Weise essentially sat on top of Rasmus Dahlin after the two tussled for a bit near the end boards, with no call coming from the referees.
With time winding down in the second, the officials again made a curious decision to not call a penalty when Shayne Gostisbehere mugged Sabres winger Jeff Skinner in plain sight, and also threw a punch. No action was taken.
Early in the third period, Philadelphia put themselves ahead on a shorthanded goal by Claude Giroux that handcuffed Ullmark glove-side. Several minutes passed before it all fell apart in a span of nearly three minutes, as Wayne Simmonds, Weise and Travis Konecny all scored to finish off the game.
“You think you get a couple days off, you’re able to rest, regroup and you’re playing a game at home,” Eichel said. “That’s the product we put out on the ice. It’s not good enough. We have to realize we haven’t earned anything in this league. Just because we won a couple games doesn’t mean we’re just going to put our skates on and go out there and win.”
All told, the Sabres were outshot 26-13 in the game’s final 40 minutes and 12-4 in the third period – leading Housley to call out his team’s defensive play.
“I know it didn’t look that way in the first, but it’s a 60-minute game there and we didn’t stay true to what’s made us successful,” Housley said. “We’re a hard-checking team and we got away from that. We wanted to be fancy. We didn’t make the right decisions. When we do that, we’re not a very good team. We’re very average.
“The one thing we can control –because it was a stinker tonight, it was a stinker. We can come back here tomorrow and get to work.”
It was a shame that the Sabres allowed six goals, because it wasted a stellar effort by Ullmark. The Swedish goaltender made several dazzling saves throughout the contest – a few on Giroux and Jakub Voracek in particular were strong.
But Ullmark wanted to look towards the future, not the past.
“I think we just have to keep looking forward instead of looking backwards,” Ullmark said. “Whatever happens, happens. You can’t cry over spilled milk.”