ST. LOUIS – The margin of error is razor thin for the Buffalo Sabres lately. They found this out once again on Saturday in a 4-2 loss to the St. Louis Blues.
Buffalo was trailing 2-1 midway through the third period when Thomas Vanek took a hooking penalty in the offensive zone. Just six seconds later David Backes got a puck behind Ryan Miller, a goal that turned out to be the eventual game winner.
The loss was Buffalo’s fifth in a row, and 12th straight on the road. They fell to 19-24-5 on the season, and flew home tonight sitting in 14th spot in the Eastern Conference with 43 points – nine points behind eighth-place Washington.
It was a solid overall performance against the league’s best home team, but Vanek knows he has to be better in crucial situations.
“It was a good team effort. But myself, I’ve just got to be smarter. Smarter and better. I had bad coverage on one of the goals, then a stupid penalty at the end.”
St. Louis improved to 20-1-1 when leading after two periods, while the Sabres are now 1-20-1 when trailing after two. In addition, the Blues haven’t lost at home since December 3, and Buffalo’s last road win was December 3 in Nashville.
On a night when they put themselves in position to win a game against the red-hot Blues, the end result was the same old story for the Sabres. The preseason excitement and lofty expectations seem like a distant memory now.
“It comes down to the details. For a long time we weren’t detail-oriented. It makes sense why we’re here. It’s our own damn fault,” Miller explained. “We just have to get some confidence back. I think that’s the big thing. No matter how good we play, you’re almost waiting for the other shoe to drop. Hockey is mistakes and bounces. They go your way too. You just have to put the work in.”
Buffalo could have easily had two or three more goals in what was their best period of the five-game road trip. Patrick Kaleta and Nathan Gerbe had great chances early, but were unable to cash in their glorious scoring opportunities. Buffalo opened the scoring on Mike Weber’s first goal of the year at 16:13. Weber took a pass from Tyler Myers and lasered a wrister past Jarolslav Halak from the left faceoff dot. Weber's snipe ended Halak's career best shutout streak ends at 164:38. It was also Weber’s first goal since March 12, 2011.
All the scoring in the second was done by the Blues. At 7:45, B.J. Crombeen slid down low and converted a pass from Backes for his first of the year. A little more than five minutes later, TJ Oshie swung out in front and fired a shot that bounced in off David Perron who was tangled up with Weber. After holding a 15-13 edge in shots midway through the period, the Sabres were outshot 8-3 over the final 10 minutes
Six seconds after Vanek went to the box for hooking, David Backes scored what turned out to be the game-winning goal at 11:35 when his shot hit Miller and somehow dribbled over the goal line. In the dying seconds of a four-minute power play (courtesy of TJ Oshie), Myers got the Sabres within a goal with one minute left with a wrist shot from the circle that beat Halak. It was the first time in 10 games that the Blues had allowed a third period goal. Backes then sealed it for the Blues with his fourth point of the night when he bounced an empty netter from his own zone at 19:25.
SABRES NOTES: Myers skated a game-high 26:03 of ice time and took three shots … Paul Gaustad (upper body), Robyn Regehr (upper body) and TJ Brennan (flu) were Buffalo’s scratches.
1 - 0 BUF
1 - 1 Tie
2 - 1 STL