After his team’s recent disaster, Buffalo Sabers coach Don Granato was partly upset and completely challenging.
“We’re going to get through this,” Granato said emphatically after the Nashville Predators’ 7-3 win Tuesday night at the KeyBank Center. “We’ll get through this. There is no doubt.”
We will see. Time is running out. The playoffs are now a dream. The announced viewership of 13,043 didn’t see much to show that the Sabers will somehow wake up before this season is over.
Granato has probably been beating his club up pretty well behind closed doors lately. After this one, his public persona seemed keen to inflate their tires.
“They think. They know they are better,” said Granato. “They know they are more capable than that.”
But where is the club that made the playoffs after 58 games and now looks like one of the worst teams in the NHL?
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“You look at it. It’s the same team right here,” said center Tage Thompson. “It’s just that we’re at a different point in the season now. We are facing adversity and we are going through things that this group has never gone through before. It’s new for everyone. It’s not an excuse, but it’s something we will learn and grow together.”
In the latest entry in a string of embarrassing losses, the Sabers were blitzed in a second half with four goals. Veteran goaltender Craig Anderson, the 41-year-old who has given Buffalo many powerful excursions into the crease, had a terrible time in the event.
Anderson gave up six goals on 20 shots and got an early hook late in the second period. And while Anderson’s positioning and reactions were a step slow all night, he didn’t get any help either.
As they’ve had most of the time over the past few weeks, the Sabers rotated the puck with impunity and constantly gave up odd rushes.
“They’re absolutely pressing, they’re playing with a lot of fear,” said Granato. “I will say that as a team we play with fear. … You see players and a group that can’t handle the pressure.”
Difficult lessons from three seasons and 66 games with the Huskies will come in handy for Levi as he enters what he Monday described as a “new chapter” with the Sabers.
Fans awaiting Devon Levi’s NHL debut probably need to be careful what they wish for. Dominik Hasek and Ryan Miller would have a hard time dealing with those many golden opportunities against them.
How bad has it gotten for the Sabers?
They have given up 26 goals in their last four home games, breaking the 1992 franchise record of 24 in a four-game set.
The godless numbers don’t end there. The Sabers fell to 33-30-6 overall and have been surpassed 19-5 in the last three games. They are 0-3-1 in their last four games and 2-8-2 in their last 12.
At home, Buffalo is a 13-20-3. It has fallen five times in a row and is 2-8-1 in the last 11.
Nashville held a 2-0 lead through one period before Dylan Cozens halved the deficit at 3:36 of the second period. But the deficit went down to two goals just 24 seconds later after Nashville center Tommy Novak grabbed a breakaway, and the Sabers never threatened again.
Anderson was mercifully drawn in favor of Ukko-Pekka Luukkonen when Ryan McDonagh scored at 15:52 of the second period to make it 6-1. Anderson actually gave up seven goals, but a Matt Duchene strike earlier in the period was canceled out by an offside challenge.
“It’s up to us. I think everyone in here takes that to heart and we feel awful letting it dry out like that,” Thompson said. “It’s hard to see. And we owe him a lot more.”
Four Nashville players had multi-point games. Rookie Luke Evangelista led with his second two-goal and first four-point total of his 11 NHL game career. All four points came in the second period, tying a franchise mark for points in a period.
Thompson, who struggled with Nashville’s Kiefer Sherwood earlier in the second half, scored a power play goal on a 5-on-3 at 2:43 in midframe. It was his 43rd of the year, the most by a Buffalo player since Thomas Vanek had 43 in 2006. Thompson had a season-high eight games without a goal.
Here are some other observations about the game:
After winger Jordan Greenway was out with an upper-body injury, center Tyson Jost returned to the Buffalo lineup after sitting out the last two games as a surprisingly healthy scratch.
“I definitely didn’t want to get out of the lineup. It’s hard to sit in the stands and watch,” Jost said after Tuesday’s optional morning skating session. “I wanted to be out there and help the boys. But the feedback I got was actually positive (from the coaches). They said they really liked the way I played.”
Jost has seven goals and 12 assists since he was claimed on waivers from Minnesota in November, and scored on Wednesday in Washington before the Sabers lost the lead and lost in a penalty shootout. He hadn’t played since then.
“It was not an easy decision to eliminate him. Obviously, after his departure from the line-up, the results were not good enough,” said Granato. “I can tell you as a coach that you have to make decisions every day. With younger teams and developing teams, you make more decisions. And you know the business. Some of them work, some don’t.”
The Sabers finished the season 18-12-2 against the Western Conference – 12-2-2 away but only 6-10-0 at home.
In a bizarre statistic, the Predators became the ninth western team to defeat the Sabers in Buffalo in a season they lost to Blue and Gold at home.
Arizona, Vancouver, Vegas, Colorado, Winnipeg, Calgary, Edmonton and Dallas have all had a similar feat this season.
• Rasmus Dahlin ended his eight-game run without a point with an assist on Thompson’s goal. It was his 50th this season, a first for a Buffalo defenseman since Phil Housley in 1989-90.
• Jeff Skinner scored his 30th goal of the season after 7:46 of the third period. It’s Skinner’s second straight season with 30 goals and the sixth of his career.
• Former Buffalo forwards Rasmus Asplund and Mark Jankowski were in the Predators’ starting XI. Asplund, who was traded to Nashville earlier this month for a 2025 seventh-round pick, is without a point in seven games.
• Former Buffalo Jr. Sabers star Matteo Costantini, the Sabers’ fifth-round pick in 2020, has his name listed on the NCAA’s transfer portal. He’s been playing in North Dakota for the last two years and has just two goals and one assist in 25 games this season.
The Sabers are scheduled to be out on Wednesday and return to practice ice on Thursday. The hope is that Levi’s immigration papers can be settled in time for him to complete his first training session with the team.
The Sabers have back-to-back duels this weekend, hosting New Jersey on Friday night and playing the New York Islanders Saturday afternoon at 5 p.m. at the UBS Arena.
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