Buffalo overcame a crippling major penalty to tie the game in the third period, eventually losing 3-2 in a shootout. But the team showed grit in overcoming a painfully slow start and actually gave Ryan Miller some support in net, outshooting the Rangers while flat-out dictating the play at times.
While Sunday's game was a loss, the point gained for overtime maintained Buffalo's four-game point streak. The Sabres hope to keep that going tonight as they continue their climb out of the Eastern Conference's basement at the Carolina Hurricanes (7 p.m., MSG).
With interim coach Ron Rolston instilling a better sense of responsibility and decision-making since taking over two weeks ago, it was a bad decision that did Buffalo in Sunday. Patrick Kaleta boarded Brad Richards from behind, getting a major penalty and subsequent five-game suspension Monday.
So Buffalo could be without three forwards tonight. Ville Leino is still on injured reserve, while Thomas Vanek is still nursing an injury that's kept him out of the past two games. Any of them could help the Sabres on the man advantage, which looked particularly woeful against the Rangers. Buffalo couldn't convert an overtime two-man advantage Sunday and went 0-for-5 on the night. That's part of Buffalo's 3-for-59 tailspin that's dropped the Sabres to dead last in the NHL in power play percentage at 10.7 percent.
Rolston said Vanek could be back tonight, but the shortened season and its constraints have put as much of a crimp on Buffalo's style as anything:
"Since I’ve been here, it’s probably more my fault than anybody in a sense that with limited practice time coming in, it’s something that we really haven’t put a lot of focus on. We’ve had to focus on some other areas to get where we are more structurally, so it’s my job now to make sure we put a lot of emphasis on that. We’ll look at personnel, and we’ll look at everything we can to make it better."
They'll need some sort of offensive boost to beat Carolina, which leads the Southeast Division despite having only five more points than Buffalo. Carolina's penalty kill is one of the worst in the league (78.5) percent, but its offensive potency (3 goals per game, sixth in the NHL) allows it to overcome any deficiencies.
In spite of the power play woes, Buffalo is easily playing its best hockey of the season. That momentum has to continue, as the Sabres enter the season's halfway point with a huge hole still to climb out of. The Sabres enter tonight's game three points out of a playoff spot but having played at least one more game than most teams in the East. So there's no room for another losing streak like the bad stretches Buffalo was mired in last month.
Buffalo has forward call-ups Kevin Porter and Brian Flynn on the 23-man roster, as well as blueliner Adam Pardy. There is no room for excuses, though, Rolston said:
"Obviously, we've had some adversity already since I've been here with Vanek being out a couple of games, and other guys stepping into roles. We have players that will go in and their opportunity will be there for them to help our team be successful. We'll do with whatever we have."
Eric Stall (12), Jiri Tlusty (10) and Jeff Skinner (8) pace the Canes on the goal-scoring front. Staal also leads the team with 25 points. Dan Ellis (3-2-0, 2.53 GAA) is the man in goal due to an injury that will keep starter Cam Ward out indefinitely.
The Canes beat Buffalo twice in a home-and-home series to open the season and have won three straight games.
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