Sabres score early, hold on to beat Jets

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Two out of three ain’t bad, but the Winnipeg Jets had designs on a spotless finish to a hectic month-end stretch.

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Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 30/10/2016 (2218 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

Two out of three ain’t bad, but the Winnipeg Jets had designs on a spotless finish to a hectic month-end stretch.

The Buffalo Sabres had other plans Sunday afternoon.

Buffalo struck for a pair of goals in the first period and endured a push from the Jets through the final 40 minutes to secure a 3-1 victory in NHL action at the MTS Centre.

MIKE DEAL / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS The Winnipeg Jets' Brandon Tanev (13) is forced off the puck by Buffalo Sabres' forward Kyle Okposo (#21) during Sunday's game.

Sabres right-wingers Kyle Okposo and Brian Gionta fired shots past Jets starting goalie Michael Hutchinson in a one-minute, 58-second span midway through the first period to stake the visitors to a lead.

Winnipeg dawdled out of the gate and got very little going in the first period, somewhat perplexing considering the zest with which the team started in back-to-back victories over the visiting Dallas Stars (4-1) Thursday and the host Colorado Avalanche (1-0) Friday.

Jets rookie forward Patrik Laine wasn’t impressed with the club’s takeoff.

“Of course (it’s frustrating) when we weren’t playing very well those two periods, of course it’s frustrating when you aren’t playing your game,” said Laine. “Ya, I think we weren’t just able to start right away and they got a couple of goals right away, so it’s not the best start to a game.”

Surprising, too, was the pre-game news Jets blue-liner Tyler Myers, who logged big minutes in the two wins over Central Division foes, was scratched because of a lower-body injury. Paul Postma, a healthy scratch the last three games, filled in on the right side with defensive partner Toby Enstrom and played 16:49, a full six minutes more than his season high in the Heritage Classic against the Edmonton Oilers, a 3-0 defeat.

Jets head coach Paul Maurice gave Hutchinson his second-straight start, altering the strategy of rotating goaltenders he’s used since the season opener. The move did not pay off.

Hutchinson surrendered three goals on 15 shots, looking particularly shaky on Okposo’s second goal of the game at 13:59 of the second period that dulled the Jets’ momentum.

Nikolaj Ehlers narrowed the Sabres’ lead when he corralled a bouncing puck off the end boards and ripped his second goal of the season at 4:49 of the third period past goalie Robin Lehner, the only shot he couldn’t handle in a 17-shot barrage by the Jets.

“Obviously, their goalie was good but we had some good chances that we could have put in,” said Ehlers. “It bounced off their sticks or whatever, but hopefully next game they go in. I think we’ve just got to take all the good stuff from this game and keep going.”

The good stuff, coming in small doses, didn’t include any positive results from the power-play unit. Winnipeg finished 0-for-6 with the man advantage and has now clicked just five times in 40 tries. Four of those have come from Laine.

First period

Coming off two hard-earned wins, the Jets left their work boots in the dressing room in the first period against Buffalo.

“We got out of the gate a little bit slow,” said Maurice. “Their guy (Lehner) played well. It was a tough game to get pucks to the net. And we couldn’t find the handle on a lot of pucks laying around. We didn’t get to that second chance.”

The Sabres were missing two of their stars, centre Jack Eichel and left-winger Evander Kane, but executed well for the second day in a row. They blanked the visiting Florida Panthers 3-0 Saturday afternoon.

“They’re a good young team, like ours, and it looked like we were behind it a little bit early. It was a tight game,” said Maurice.

Winnipeg created a couple of low-grade scoring chances on Lehner, who wasn’t forced to make any eye-popping saves. Jets centre Mark Scheifele was the most active shooter, firing four pucks at Lehner.

Looking to spark an anemic offence late in the period, Maurice switched up Ehlers and Laine, dropping the Finnish rookie to the second line while reuniting Ehlers with Scheifele and right-winger Blake Wheeler.

Second period

A careless play by fourth-line centre Alex Burmistrov and the inability of Hutchinson to bail him out was the story of the middle period.

The centre had plenty of time to dump the puck down the ice with the Jets changing for some fresh legs but, instead, tried to dangle around a couple of Sabres and turned it over. Buffalo centre Ryan O’Reilly snapped a quick pass across to Okposo, who skated down the left side and wired a shot over Hutchinson’s blocker.

Maurice had seen enough, calling on netminder Connor Hellebuyck to fill in. He finished with 13 saves.

The only goal of the period was a killer for the Jets, who had buzzed the Buffalo end for a couple of shifts leading up to the play.

Defenceman Josh Morrissey flashed some of his offensive upside with two boomers from the point, while centre Mathieu Perreault showed some shiftiness in tight but couldn’t solve Lehner.

Wheeler took a blow to the head from defenceman Rasmus Ristolainen late in the second period but returned for the third.

Third period

Ehlers, with his second goal of the season, was the recipient of a fortunate bounce off the backboards after Wheeler’s blast from the point went wide. Lehner had no chance to make the stop.

The Danish speedster was the Jets’ best forward by far on a day when fine performances were difficult to find.

“I felt good, I used my speed and that’s what I need to do every single game,” said Ehlers. “I don’t feel I’ve been doing that, but (Sunday) I felt good.

“Paul wanted to change something at the end of the first period and I think that I went in and used my speed well and created time and space for Scheif and Wheels. Hopefully, we can keep building on that.”

He nearly had his second of the period on a bizarre play with less than a minute left but couldn’t volley a puck out of the air and into a wide-open cage.

“Pretty close (to knocking it in). Most times I probably put that in and it would have been (3-2) and we would have had another 30-35 seconds to get the last one,” said Ehlers.

Maurice pulled Hellebuyck for much of the final three minutes and the Sabres had about five chances to score from long range but missed the mark.

“The only thing I think we can do better is if we hit the empty net, it ends the game,” said Buffalo head coach Dan Bylsma, then offered this zinger. “We’ll maybe work on our longer shots (Monday).”

jason.bell@freepress.mb.ca

Twitter: @WFPJasonBell

Jason Bell

Jason Bell
Sports editor

Jason Bell wanted to be a lawyer when he was a kid. The movie The Paper Chase got him hooked on the idea of law school and, possibly, falling in love with someone exactly like Lindsay Wagner (before she went all bionic).

History

Updated on Sunday, October 30, 2016 4:41 PM CDT: Updates with final score, adds photo

Updated on Sunday, October 30, 2016 5:32 PM CDT: Adds photo gallery.

Updated on Sunday, October 30, 2016 7:17 PM CDT: updated gamer

Updated on Sunday, October 30, 2016 7:28 PM CDT: Adds photo, slideshow

Updated on Sunday, October 30, 2016 8:23 PM CDT: Corrects typo

Updated on Sunday, October 30, 2016 9:10 PM CDT: Updates with writethru

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