The Buffalo Sabres seem to be working through their struggles, but the Tampa Bay Lightning are still fully immersed in theirs. They don’t sound particularly optimistic about getting things turned around, either.
After an eighth straight loss their coach called an “embarrassment,” the Lightning will try to snap their skid at Buffalo on Wednesday as the Sabres look to win three consecutive game for the first time since mid-October.
Buffalo (13-11-3) can relate to Tampa Bay’s struggles, having lost five in a row during a 2-8-0 stretch from Nov. 14-Dec. 4. But the Sabres have pulled out back-to-back wins in the third period, including a 4-3 road victory on Saturday against the Lightning (6-13-8).
While that was a big win for Buffalo, it was just another loss among far too many for Tampa Bay. The Lightning fired coach Barry Melrose after a 5-7-4 start, but have only gotten worse, going 1-6-4 since letting him go on Nov. 14.
They lost their eighth in a row under interim coach Rick Tocchet on Monday in Boston. Tampa Bay fell behind 3-0 less than 11 minutes into the game en route to a 5-3 loss that left Tocchet questioning his players’ preparation.
“To me it’s an embarrassment when you have more than three or four individuals not ready to play,” Tocchet said.
Mike Smith, who has been in net for seven of the eight losses, saw too many of the same issues plaguing the Lightning.
“I don’t know if we’re a dumb team or we just don’t get it, or we don’t deserve to be in this league,” said Smith, who is 0-5-2 with a 2.99 goals-against average since Nov. 26. “I mean, we’re making the same mistakes we talk about, game in and game out.”
Perhaps Tampa Bay will find better luck at the site of one of its three road victories. The Lightning still haven’t equaled their offensive output from their first trip to Buffalo, when rookie Steven Stamkos - the top pick in the 2008 draft - had two goals and an assist in a 5-2 win Oct. 30.
The Sabres shut Stamkos down on Saturday and didn’t let former No. 1 overall pick Vincent Lecavalier score a goal, though he did record two assists.
Buffalo faced another pair of high draft picks Monday in Pittsburgh, but didn’t let Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin - the league’s two top scorers - turn a 3-1 Penguins lead into a blowout. They combined for three assists, but the Sabres shut Pittsburgh down for the game’s last 38 minutes in a 4-3 comeback win.
The Penguins had three 5-on-3 chances throughout the game, but Buffalo killed off two of those opportunities.
“I thought our penalty killers did a good job,” Sabres coach Lindy Ruff said. “We put ourselves in a pretty tight spot, let them have some 5-on-3s. There was some real good desperation.”
Buffalo killed off seven penalties overall, and though it did allow a power-play goal, that was the first it had given up in 32 chances dating to Nov. 26.
Thomas Vanek scored the game-winner, his 20th goal of the season.
It wouldn’t be surprising if he scores on Wednesday. Vanek has a goal in each game against the Lightning this season, and had hat tricks in his last two home games versus them in 2007-08.