CHICAGO – The Buffalo Sabres received another great performance from their goaltender, but as been the case often in the young 2013-14 season, they could not generate enough offense to yield a win.
Ryan Miller turned aside 38 shots, including 19 of 20 in the first period, but Buffalo fell to the defending Stanley Cup-champion Chicago Blackhawks 2-1 at United Center on Saturday. The Sabres are still looking for their first victory of the season and fall to 0-5-1 on the year.
Drew Stafford scored his first goal of the season midway through the third period to make it a one-goal game. Ben Smith and Patrick Kane scored for Chicago and Corey Crawford made 28 saves to earn the victory.
Buffalo got into penalty trouble early on.
The Blackhawks controlled play for much of the first period, outshooting the Sabres 20-6. Eight of those 20 shots came over the course of their three power-play opportunities in the period.
Through two periods of play, the Blackhawks had 11 of their 36 shots on the man advantage.
Chicago defeated the New York Islanders the night before at home and Miller said he thinks they should’ve been able to better take advantage of potentially tired legs.
“We’re just going to have to keep doing what we’re doing until we break through. I thought penalty trouble left us on the wrong end of it early on and it’s a team that played the night before. We should’ve played a smarter first period and had the energy later and you could see it as the third period went on,” Miller said. “We had the energy and they were trying to just kind of hang on.”
Smith scored 5-on-5 at 9:36 of the first period, deflecting in a Brent Seabrook point shot.
Kane tallied on the power play with 24.9 seconds left in the second period. Patrick Sharp took the puck from behind the Sabres net, skated into the left wing corner and crossed the puck over the Kane. With Miller sliding across the crease from his right to his left, Kane shot the puck over Miller’s glove and in.
The Sabres finally got on the board with 8:11 remaining in regulation. Stafford put home a pass from Cody Hodgson that beat Crawford low on the far side on his glove hand. Stafford joined the rush on the play after hustling off the bench on a line change. The goal was also Stafford’s first point of the year.
“It was a tough change. I tried to get out there as quick as I could. [Hodgson] made a great play. It kind of went through their D-man’s skate and just happened to pop right on my stick,” Stafford said. “I didn’t really get the best shot off, but the way things are going, I was due for one of those to go in finally. It’s just unfortunate we weren’t able to bury our other chances.”
Stafford is one forward Buffalo counts on for secondary scoring. Until Saturday, the only goals by forwards had come from Hodgson, Thomas Vanek and rookie Zemgus Girgensons. Hodgson leads the team with five points (1+4).
“I thought tonight we had more chances from more lines, It wasn’t just our top line,” Sabres coach Ron Rolston said. “I thought we had contributions from other lines which we’re going to have to have and we haven’t had that in the last couple games so that’s a positive for us.”
Miller kept the Sabres in the game and received high praise from Rolston after the game.
“He’s basically, at this point, one of the best players in the League in terms of influence on their hockey team,” Rolston said.
Stafford said that both Miller and backup Jhonas Enroth have been excellent so far, but that the offense eventually needs to come through to give them some support.
“We know both of them are the backbone of this team and if they’re playing well, it gives us a chance to win against any team,” Stafford said. “It’s a matter of us to put our chances away and unfortunately tonight, we couldn’t get one past Crawford.”
The Sabres are back in action Monday night when they host the Minnesota Wild at 7:30 p.m.