There really isn't much of a consolation to be found in how the Buffalo Sabres lost on Sunday. They overcame a two-goal deficit to the Pittsburgh Penguins only to surrender two late goals and lose, 4-3.
But if there is a silver lining, it's that the Sabres can make a return to relevance this week. They play three teams that Buffalo should be able to compete with, and a return to .500 would be had with three wins.
The Sabres play the Winnipeg Jets tonight at 7 PM. The Jets (5-8-1) are one of the few teams in the Eastern Conference worse than the Sabres (6-9-1) and have only won two games away from central Canada.
Of course, Buffalo was able to hold its own against the best of the East on Sunday. The conference-leading Penguins scored twice in the game's first 90 seconds, but Buffalo battled back to take a third-period lead. Letting that slip away frustrated everyone on the team.
"It’s tough, you know, especially because we did have this game, you know?" center Cody Hodgson said. "I thought when we were up one, I thought we could really take it to them. We had lots of momentum. It just didn’t end up that way."
Shoddy defensive play contributed to the loss. Numerous turnovers led to Pittsburgh's rally and wasted a 31-save effort by Ryan Miller. Captain Jason Pominville said improving that quickly is mandatory or else the rest of the abbreviated 48-season will be a waste:
"Giveaways are there, but we’re in the zone still. We can still get the puck out. I don’t think they scored off a rush. They were in our zone. They were cycling. Giveaways will happen in a game. You just have to make sure we play well in our zone, and at that point we didn’t, and they ended up making a play."
Buffalo is actually pretty good at putting the puck in the net (their 3.1 goals per game are good for 10th in the NHL), but a lack of plays made on the power play plagues the Sabres. Their 13.6 conversion percentage is only 27th in the league, and only a five-on-three goal by Thomas Vanek kept the Sabres from being scoreless on the power play Sunday.
Fortunately, the right team is flying into town to spark a turnaround. The Jets are dead last on the penalty kill, stopping their opponents only 65.9 percent of the time. They also allow a lot of goals in general. The 3.2 goals scored against the Jets each night is only 25th in the league.
After tonight's game are a game at Toronto, which is ahead of the Sabres in the standings but already lost to Buffalo in Ontario. And then this weekend come the Islanders, of whom Buffalo already beat in Nassau Coliseum, and they are tied with the Sabres in the standings.
The Jets are led offensively by defenseman Tobias Enstrom, who has 13 points. Winger Andrew Ladd paces Winnipeg with seven goals. Ondrej Pavelec (3-8-1, 3.15 GAA) gets the bulk of the time in goal.
Steve Ott leads the league in hits with 64. Vanek leads the NHL with 12 goals and 25 points.