WINNIPEG – It had been more than 16 years since the Buffalo Sabres last played a regular season game in Winnipeg. But these days it doesn’t seem to matter what road city the Sabres play in, because they are all giving them fits. Buffalo’s road losing streak reached 11 games tonight, as they dropped a 4-1 decision to the Winnipeg Jets before a sold-out crowd at the MTS Centre.
Buffalo has now lost the first four games of a season-high seven game road trip by a combined score of 19-5, and close out the first part of the trip Saturday in St. Louis against the high-flying Blues. The Sabres haven’t won a road game since December 3 in Nashville, and play four of their next five away from the First Niagara Center.
Despite playing last night in Chicago and arriving late into Winnipeg, the Sabres were able to skate with the Jets early. Winnipeg carried play for the early part of the game, but was only able to head to the first intermission up by a goal. But after Drew Stafford tied it up early in the second, the opportunistic Jets scored on a power play when Tobias Enstrom’s point shot eluded a screened Ryan Miller.
Miller didn’t fault his penalty killing unit on that goal, but realizes that they have to be better.
“As you get deep in the season, teams start to know what your tendencies are, and they can adapt and adjust. They threw a couple of different looks at us,” explained Miller. “But their goal in the second period, Roy’s gotta block it or I’ve gotta save it. Plain and simple. There’s no one else around. That’s just the kind of stuff that happens when things aren’t going right.”
Lindy Ruff agreed that the Sabres have to be better on both the power play and penalty kill.
“The special teams hurt us. I think special teams can lead you out of that. You’ve gotta win that battle. We had a tough time getting our shots through; they got theirs through. I thought that was maybe the difference on their power play.”
Ruff continues to search for answers during one of the most frustrating stretches of his coaching career. He thinks that they’ll likely have to steal a game to break out, but understands this demanding road swing isn’t making things any easier.
“It’ll take probably a strong effort by our goalie to probably be the first start of the game. We knew rolling into tonight’s game it might be the toughest game of the whole segment – it was back-to-back, five in seven, and we’ve been a little shorthanded. I thought on the energy side, a couple of our young defensemen didn’t quite have the energy tonight.”
Patrick Kaleta was injured in the second period when he was hit in the foot by a shot. Ruff said his x-rays were negative, but thinks he could miss a few games
The Jets scored the only goal of the first, but Ryan Miller prevented it from being a lot worse. Buffalo was outshot 19-10, and Miller made several huge saves throughout the period. His biggest came around the 10 minute mark when he reached back and scooped out a shot that was inches away from sliding into the empty net – even Jim Slater prematurely raised his arms to celebrate the goal. Winnipeg’s goal came courtesy of Andrew Ladd, when he tipped Ron Hainsey’s point shot past Miller at 11:34. Cody McCormick returned to Buffalo’s lineup, and engaged in a spirited tussle with Mark Stuart after he knocked down Luke Adam with a high hit.
Both teams traded goals in a period that saw the Jets outshoot Buffalo 11-7. The Sabres had some early pressure that resulted in a goal by Drew Stafford at 4:18. Working a two-on-one with Nathan Gerbe, Stafford took the pass on his off wing and fired a snap shot over Ondrej Pavelec's right pad. Winnipeg regained the lead on a point shot from Tobias Enstrom at 12:55 on the power play, as the Sabres were playing shorthanded thanks to a Too Many Men call. Ville Leino nearly evened the score in the dying seconds, but his backhand-forehand attempt was stopped by Pavelec.
With Derek Roy in the box for tripping, Winnipeg used the power play to increase their lead to 3-1 when Tim Stapleton chipped a loose puck past Miller at 3:46. The Sabres appeared to cut into the Jets lead on a goalmouth scramble, but both the referee and video review determined that Pavelec was able to cover Roy’s scoring chance before it crossed the line. Nik Antropov closed out the scoring with 80 seconds left when he cut in from the corner and swept a backhand past Miller from the edge of the crease.
SABRES NOTES: This concluded Buffalo’s 13th back-to-back set of the season, and it was the first time they have been swept … Paul Gaustad (upper body), Robyn Regehr (upper body) and Joe Finley (healthy) were Buffalo’s scratches … Gaustad was injured Wednesday in Chicago on a hit from Jamal Mayers … Cody McCormick was inserted back into the lineup to replace Gaustad, and he contributed four hits and seven PIMs … Tyler Myers led both teams with a game-high 24:26 of ice time … Mike Weber was credited with team-high eight shots attempts – but had six of them blocked.