Reaching the 500-game mark may have felt a little more satisfying to Drew Stafford had his team skated off the ice with a victory.
While Stafford did score his 12th goal of the season Tuesday night, the Buffalo Sabres allowed four unanswered goals and fell 4-1 to the Nashville Predators at First Niagara Center.
Predators captain Shea Weber, Craig Smith and Nick Spaling each had a goal and an assist in the game. Goaltender Cater Hutton turned aside 24 of 25 shots.
Jhonas Enroth made 20 saves; Nashville added an empty-net goal with 1:31 remaining in regulation.
The 23 shots against were the fewest they’ve allowed in 18 games.
“At least we cut down our shot total tonight and when you cut down the shot total, sometimes you back off offensively,” Sabres interim coach Ted Nolan said. “But there was only one basically going and you’re not going to win too many games doing that.”
Stafford has registered 14 points (8+ 6) in his last 15 games and hasn't played three games without recording a point since Dec. 31 to Jan. 15.
“Games like these, we do need everybody,” Stafford said. “We’re going to be playing against a lot of teams that’ll be looking for playoff points. They’re going to be pressing hard. It’s not going to be any easier. We’re not going to have anyone come in here and save us from this. We’ve got to pick ourselves up and hopefully get out of this. ”
The Sabres are at the bottom of the Eastern Conference and play 12 of their final 17 games on the road. Nolan believes that the true character of this young group that’s lost many veterans in the last few weeks due to trades will be revealed in the coming weeks when they face some real adversity.
“Some of the younger guys, see how they respond to it. Some of the older guys, see how they have a shoulder for some of the younger guys to lean on once in awhile,” Nolan said. “And there’s no one to really look to. We’re in this thing together and there’s no sense in pointing fingers and saying, ‘This and that. I wish I would’ve had this or I wish I would’ve had that.’
“We have what we have and we’ve got to work through it and we’ve got to get better.”
The Predators now sit six points out of the second Wild Card spot in the Western Conference. After the game, Nolan complimented the consistency the Predators have shown under coach Barry Trotz’s 15-year tenure behind the bench. The fight the Predators gave the Sabres on Tuesday was pretty much what Nolan expected.
“Nashville’s been Nashville for a long time. Barry Trotz does a great job with that team,” Nolan said. “They do the same thing over and over and over again, so that was no surprise.”
Stafford has played all eight of his professional seasons with the Sabres and, when asked about what playing in his 500 th game meant to him, he thanked his teammates – past and present – the team training staff and the coaches he’s had over the years.
Nolan has praised Stafford’s leadership qualities over the past week and has liked what he’s seen from his line the past two days.
“Drew’s really trying to take the leadership role on this team. We lost some veteran players so he’s really stepping up,” Nolan said. “And then Tyler Ennis, he’s been good every game since I’ve been here. He had some moments in certain games, but outside of that, he’s been real good. And Conacher adds a little different element to it. He’s a feisty guy also. They had a good one tonight.”
Stafford feels that at 28 years old, he still has a lot left in the tank.
“I’m kind of a glass half-full type of guy, so I feel like I still have a lot more to go and I’m still ascending,” he said. “Hopefully we can finish off strong.”
Sabres forward Matt Ellis reached a milestone as well as he dressed for his 300th NHL game.
The Sabres now embark on a two-game road trip that begins Thursday night against the Carolina Hurricanes. They then head out to play the New York Islanders for a match on Saturday.