Defenseman Tyler Myers and left winger Marcus Foligno scored
goals and goaltender Jhonas Enroth made 43 saves as the Buffalo
Sabres dealt the Lightning a costly 3-1 loss on Thursday night at
the Tampa Bay Times Forum.
"We've hit a rut," said Lightning coach Jon Cooper. "At some point,
most teams go through these."
Tampa Bay's is coming at an inopportune time, with 19 games
remaining. The Lightning (34-24-5) still hold one of two wild cards
in the Eastern Conference but lost eight of their last 11 games.
Buffalo (19-35-8) has the fewest points in the league with 46.
"You've got a team coming in here that's not necessarily going to be
in the playoff and they play hard and play well and they get a great
game from their goaltender," said Stamkos, who was announced as the
new Lightning captain before the game. "We can't afford to let teams
come in here and let them beat us down the stretch."
The game was an odd confluence of emotions and storylines for the
Lightning. Stamkos returned after a 45-game injury absence, but
Tampa Bay was slipshod and ineffective in its first game without
former captain Martin St. Louis, its emotional leader and spark, who
asked to be dealt to the New York Rangers at the deadline.
Right winger Ryan Callahan, who came to Tampa Bay in the St. Louis
trade, was anonymous in his Lightning debut.
Not so for Enroth, who became the starter with the trade of longtime
Sabres goaltender and Vezina Trophy winner Ryan Miller. He was
spotless until center Tyler Johnson scored short-handed for his 19th
goal of the season on a defensive lapse with 2:29 left. The Sabres,
outshot 44-21, blocked 21 attempts in front of Enroth.
Stamkos showed no lingering effects from his broken right tibia, but
was not his predatory self. He missed the net wide on a rush in the
first period and was alone with the puck in front of Neuvirth with
18 seconds left in the second, only to miss everything. Earlier, he
had indulged in a brief three-punch fight with defenseman Mike
"Thank God he was a little bit rusty in his first game back," said
Sabres coach Ted Nolan.
Cooper, however, said Stamkos was "outstanding" on Thursday.
"If that's the worst game he plays for us, things will look really
good," he said. "I thought he was the most dangerous man on the
Tampa Bay went 0-for-3 on the power play and struggled throughout
the game to establish or maintain possession in the offensive zone.
Defenseman Mark Barbeiro missed wide of the net late in the game on
a power play set up previously drawn for St. Louis.
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"It's definitely a different team without (St. Louis) over
there," said Sabres center Cody Hodgson, who had a goal and assist.
"On the power play there is a different dynamic on that side.
They're still dangerous and they still have chemistry over there,
but it's definitely different."
In a period the Lightning dominated, Buffalo took a 1-0 lead 4:04
left in the first when Myers skated onto a blueline giveaway, eluded
defenseman Sami Salo and snapped his ninth goal of the season past
goalie Anders Lindback, who made18 saves in the loss.
Buffalo controlled play through the first half of the second period,
producing several odd-man rushes, but doubled its lead with a
grinder goal with 10:35 left. After Hodgson dug the puck from a
scrum behind the net and threw a shot off Lindback, Foligno swooped
in from the far side of the goal to stuff in his seventh of the
season. Hodgson (18) and Myers (13) assisted.
Hodgson scored his 16th of the season on a breakaway to seal the win
with less than four minutes left. Foligno added his ninth assist.
NOTES: RW Martin St. Louis, the former Lightning captain, scoring
champion, Hart Trophy winner and the last link to the team's 2003-04
Stanley Cup roster, was granted a trade to the New York Rangers on
Wednesday. St. Louis led Tampa Bay with 29 goals and 61 points this
season and in career points (973) and assists (604). ... Lightning C
Steven Stamkos returned after missing 45 games with a broken right
tibia. Stamkos was hurt crashing into a goal at Boston on Nov. 11.
The two-time goal-scoring champion, whose leg was stabilized with a
titanium rod, had 14 goals in 17 games and was tied for the league
lead when he was injured. The Lightning averaged 3.1 goals in the 17
games that Stamkos played before Thursday and 2.6 in the remainder.
... The Sabres entered with the fewest points in the NHL (44). ...
Buffalo claimed former Lightning LW Cory Conacher off waivers from
the Ottawa Senators. ... RW Teddy Purcell replaced St. Louis on the
top line with Stamkos and LW Alex Killorn. ... Stamkos was announced
before the game as the new Lightning captain and the 10th in
franchise history. ... RW Ryan Callahan was a minus-1 in 16:33 in
his Lightning debut, with four hits.
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