The Buffalo Sabres have been plagued by slow starts this season. Those struggles continued Saturday night in the team’s 4-2 loss to the Colorado Avalanche at First Niagara Center.
Ryan O’Reilly, Gabriel Landeskog, Matt Duchene and Paul Stastny scored for Colorado. Jean-Sebastian Giguere made 28 saves for the win.
The Avalanche outshot the Sabres 9-0 to start the game. Buffalo’s first shot on goal didn’t come until 5:50 remaining in the period.
“We had a concerted effort that we wanted a good start tonight,” Sabres coach Rolston said. “So obviously it wasn’t the right way to do it and we have to find a better way to do it. We didn’t obviously get through to them.”
The Sabres were coming off a 3-0 loss to the Vancouver Canucks on Thursday in which Vancouver opened the game with eight shots in the opening 1:49. It seemed like déjà vu for a little while early in the game Saturday.
“You get tired of talking and saying the same things all the time, but our starts cost us again. It’s something obviously we’re conscious of,” Hodgson said. “We just need to be better. I don’t know how else to say it.”
With 8:44 left in the first, O’Reilly opened the scoring on Colorado’s ninth shot. Landsekog scored to give the Avalanche a 2-0 lead 3:13 later. Colorado skated to the dressing room after the first with a 14-3 edge in shots.
“We’ve got to do a better job with, obviously, preparation in terms of being prepared and again, a lot of our vets are out there to start a hockey game,” Rolston said. “Preparation is the first thing you look at and focus on what we need to do early on in the game.”
“It comes back to work. You see at times in the game when there’s work there. For example, the penalty kill when Johan Larsson’s out there and Brian Flynn [is] out there working and the crowd’s into it,” Rolston said. “Those guys are working but we don’t get enough of that throughout the course of the game so it comes back to work.
“There’s no magic answer to tell them, ‘You’ve gotta do this or that.’ If you don’t work, it doesn’t matter what you do.”
Colorado came out strong to start the second period, too. Duchene put the Avalanche up by three just 56 seconds into the period on the power play on a play down near the crease. Shots were 16-3 in favor of Colorado at that point.
Buffalo inched closer on Hodgson’s goal at 5:31 of the second period. Skating down the right wing on a breakout play, Hodgson ripped a slap shot from the top of the faceoff circle that found the back of the net to make it 3-1. Hodgson said he was just looking to get a shot on net.
“I think we came on strong in the second and third,” Hodgson said. “We started playing with the puck more and started making some real positive things happen. We know we can play. It’s not a question of that. It’s not putting ourselves behind the eight-ball right away.”
The Avalanche regained their three-goal lead quickly thereafter. Stastny scored 3:03 later to put Colorado ahead 4-1.
Coming out of the third period, Buffalo gained some quick time in the offensive zone and scored 1:05 in. Foligno collected a rebound off Giguere’s blocker, turned around and wristed a shot top shelf to cut Colorado’s lead to 4-2.
“Right place, right time,” Foligno said. “You get a rebound there and no one’s really near me so I’m lucky to put that in. But at the same time, it all started from a shift where he got pucks to the net. That seemed like that was the whole case the entire second half of the game. We just looked like the better team out there and it’s too bad our slow start kicked us where it hurt.”
Nikita Zadorov made his NHL debut in the game. The 18-year-old Russian defenseman became the fourth teenager to play for the Sabres this season, along with Rasmus Ristolainen, 18, Zemgus Girgensons, 19, and Mikhail Grigorenko, 19. The Sabres are the first NHL team to dress four teenagers in a season since 1995-96.
The 1995-96 Sabres suited up Jay McKee, Martin Biron, Wayne Primeau, Vaclav Varada and Curtis Brown that season. They were one of three teams to play at least four teenagers that season. The Florida Panthers dressed four teens in 1995-16 while Winnipeg dressed six.
“I think I was ready to go and I just want to keep going, keep working and playing my game,” Zadorov said. “…[The coaches] just told me like, ‘Play hard every shift. Play how you can and do your job.’”
Zadorov was drafted 16th overall by the Sabres in the NHL Draft in June. Rolston was much happier with the 11:01 Zadorov played than many other of his players and said it would be tough to take him out of the lineup.
Zadorov can play up to nine NHL games before the Sabres have to decide whether or not to return him to the London Knights of the Ontario Hockey League without using up a year of his entry-level contract.
“You’ve got an 18-year-old kid out there who looked like he played 20 years in the League and then you’ve got other guys who looked like it was their first game,” Rolston said. “So, [we have to] figure it out.”