They had their chances. Unfortunately for the Buffalo Sabres, they weren’t able to capitalize on them.
Buffalo fell to the New York Rangers 3-1 at First Niagara Center on Thursday and are still looking to solve many of the issues that have befuddled them all season.
“Same problems, another day where we have to search for the answers,” Sabres interim coach Ted Nolan said. “No one’s going to ride in here and fix it for us. We have to fix it ourselves. We have to look in the mirror at what we can do to try to correct this thing to try to make it better.”
The Rangers held a 1-0 lead heading into the third period.
With 12:52 left, Cody Hodgson skated in on a breakaway but was denied by Lundqvist’s right pad. As Hodgson skated into the corner, he tripped up Rangers forward Rick Nash and was called for a penalty. The Sabres paid for the infraction when Brad Richards scored a power-play goal 1:09 later to make it 2-0 and take Buffalo right out of the game.
“Those are the type of things that are killing us – the timing of situations that happen. Cody goes on a breakaway, almost ties it up and all of a sudden, trips the guy and we’re down 2-0,” Nolan said. “It’s a momentum swing that we can’t afford. I don’t think Cody meant to do it. It just happened and when things go bad, things go bad. We just have to keep fighting here and keep trying to find the right solution to turn this thing around and try to find a consistent way of playing.”
Taking late penalties in close games has been a recurring problem for Buffalo. The Sabres committed only two penalties all game, but it was the call on Hodgson that made it extremely difficult for the Sabres to get back into the contest.
“The discipline was all right, but it is the timing that’s cost us this year,” Sabres center Tyler Ennis said. “A few times, myself including taking a penalty at the end of the game, penalties that lose momentum for the guys. You’ve got to be more disciplined than that and when we get power plays, it’s gotta be better.”
Ennis scored Buffalo’s lone goal with 2:06 left in regulation to spoil Henrik Lundqvist’s shutout bid. The Rangers goaltender finished the game with 27 saves.
The Sabres’ offensive troubles continued for the second straight game. After failing to score against the New Jersey Devils on Saturday, Buffalo entered the third period against the Rangers without a goal.
In addition to Hodgson’s breakaway, captain Steve Ott had a partial break about a minute after Richards’ goal. The Sabres had other good opportunities as well that Lundqvist was able to turn aside.
“I think we just have to keep working. It’s one not getting chances. We’re getting chances. We just have to bear down,” Sabres forward Matt Moulson said. “I think we can create even more by getting pucks and guys to the net. Anytime you’re not getting a lot of goals, you gotta just keep throwing pucks there and getting as many guys as you can.”
Sabres goaltender Ryan Miller made 28 saves and felt that his club had good opportunities. However, he didn’t feel like he did enough to help the team win.
“It was a better hockey game than we’ve seen earlier in the year and it’s my job to give them a chance to be in the game and I blew that part of it. Not a lot of room for error, so we have to make it count,” he said. “…There’s a certain standard I have to play to and that’s a one-goal game with the ability for this team to tie it late and get points out of it. That’s the difference tonight. I thought the guys were better as the game went on.”
Rick Nash scored with 2:13 remaining in the first period. Skating up the left wing, he came in on Miller, made a quick deke and tucked the puck in past Miller’s right pad.
“That was a complete system breakdown,” Sabres defenseman Tyler Myers said, who was caught chasing Nash to the net. “That’s not what we do on our set forecheck when they’re coming out of the zone so we have to address that.”
Mats Zuccarello scored the Rangers other goal with 5:13 left in the third period to make it 3-0.
The Sabres return to action Saturday night when they travel to take on the Montreal Canadiens at Bell Centre at 7 p.m.