Buffalo, N.Y. (WGR 550) - The Buffalo Sabres traveled to Tampa Bay to take on the Lightning on Saturday night for the second game of their back-to-back road trip.
The Sabres were looking to bounce back after a sour loss the night before in Carolina against the Hurricanes. However, that was going to be a challenge without the services of defenseman Rasmus Dahlin, who was out due to an upper-body injury.
The Lightning jumped out to an early lead about halfway through the first period with a goal from forward Nick Paul. Throughout the opening frame, both teams seemed pretty evenly matched with chances going both ways.
Sabres forward Zemgus Girgensons finally broke through for his team near the end of the period, tying the game at 1-1.
The second period was much like the first, where both teams were threatening in the offensive zone.
Lightning forward Brayden Point broke the dead lock about five minutes into the period with his sixth goal of the year. However, just three minutes later Sabres forward Casey Mittelstadt scored off a deflection of an Owen Power shot on the powerplay to tie the game at 2-2.
It was the Sabres who struck first in the third period when Jeff Skinner scored his third goal of the year to make the score 3-2.
This lead was short-lived, though, when former Sabres prospect Brandon Hagel tied things up for the Lightning. Tampa Bay defensman Nick Perbix scored his first NHL goal with less than five minutes remaining, putting the Lightning up 4-3 with the eventual game-winning goal. Forward Nikita Kucherov sealed the game with an empty net goal, giving Tampa Bay the 5-3 victory.
With two tough losses in-a-row, this was a hard road trip for the Sabres.
Here are this game's three observations:
1.) Depleted defense
The team has had a tough time on the blue line since early on in the season when they lost Henri Jokiharju and Mattias Samuelsson to injuries in back-to-back games on their four-game Western road trip. Along with that, free agent signee Ilya Lyubushkin had missed a couple of games from a lower-body injury.
With Samuelsson and Jokiharju's absences being estimated to last around a month each, the Sabres began to lean heavily on Dahlin and rookie Owen Power to lead the blue line.
However, Dahlin was left off the lineup card for the team's game against Tampa Bay after sustaining an upper-body injury the night before in Carolina. While Dahlin is listed as day-to-day, his absence was noticeable on Saturday night.
However, Cale Klague has stepped in nicely since being called up from the Rochester Americans, and Lyubushkin making a return to the lineup helped immensely, as well.
2.) Be even more aggressive
The Sabres have shown a new-found grit this year, when it comes scrums at the end of a period or after the whistle. But for some reason, this doesn't seem to always happen during the game itself.
There were many instances in Saturday night's game where the Sabres were easily being pushed around by players like Pat Maroon and Corey Perry with almost no push back.
One key component to every playoff contending team is the one or two players who come up with big hits at big times.
3.) Don't get frustrated
The last two games for the Sabres have been frustrating losses. Between shots off the post, missed penalty calls, or missing easy scoring opportunities, it's easy for a team to get frustrated.
One of the many things the Sabres improved on so far this year is the massive output of shots and scoring chances, which can't fall off. If this starts to fall off, the rest of the improvements will fade, as well.
The team needs to take their two days off before the next game to rest up and regroup. If frustrations keep happening, it will lead to a lack of confidence, and then a lack of offensive chances and output.
The Sabres will host the Arizona Coyotes on Tuesday night back at the friendly confines of KeyBank Center in Downtown Buffalo. The Coyotes are off to a 4-6-1 start, which puts them in second-to-last place in the Central Division.
Puck drop is slated for 7 p.m. EST with pre-game coverage starting at 6 p.m. EST with Schopp and the Bulldog on the radio home of the Buffalo Sabres - WGR Sports Radio 550.