BUFFALO, N.Y. – With a leadership vacuum to be filled, goalie Ty Conklin and forward T.J. Oshie stepped up shortly after the St. Louis Blues traded captain Eric Brewer to the Tampa Bay Lightning.
The Buffalo Sabres were going through an altogether different transformation on Friday, and wound up getting booed off the ice following a 3-0 loss on a day the NHL board of governors approved the team’s sale.
Conklin stopped 25 shots to improve to 7-1 against Buffalo. Oshie had a goal and assist for his first two-point outing since he returned Jan. 18 after missing 31 games with a broken left ankle.
More prominent for the Blues was how they responded after learning Brewer had been traded for defenceman Brock Beukeboom, an unsigned draft pick, and a third-round pick in the 2011 draft.
“To be honest, we had a lot of distractions today. Seeing Brew go right before the game, our captain,” said Conklin. “He’s a hell of a good teammate, so it’s pretty impressive how the team responded.”
David Backes and Vladimir Sobotka, with an empty-netter, also scored for the Blues, who won their second in a row and improved to 4-1-2 in their past seven while remaining in 13th place in the Western Conference standings.
“It was a very solid response,” Blues coach Davis Payne said. “We talked before the game as a group, we acknowledged the fact that a friend and a teammate has been traded.
“We’re not going to deny that fact, but our goals and objectives remain the same. And that’s the type of performance we need to put on the ice.”
The Sabres had much more on the line than making a good impression on Pennsylvania billionaire Terry Pegula, their new owner.
They instead came out flat in squandering yet another bid to move into playoff contention. With 60 points, they fell four behind eighth-place Carolina in the East.
“There wasn’t any area of our game I liked,” coach Lindy Ruff said. “We’ve got some work to do. That was flat-out disappointing.”
Coming off a 2-1 loss to Toronto on Wednesday, Buffalo’s lost two straight for the first time during a 21-game stretch in which they’re now 13-6-2. Both losses have come at the start of a key six-game homestand, after which the Sabres play seven straight on the road.
“We have to be willing to put the work in,” said Ryan Miller, who stopped 21 shots. “It does get frustrating and the guys want to win and are putting the effort in. But we could’ve been smarter tonight.”
Oshie opened the scoring 2:47 into the second by converting Patrik Berglund’s centring pass into the slot. Berglund, parked near the right post, had his initial pass blocked, but got the puck back again to find Oshie cruising through the middle.
Backes scored a power-play goal with 1:22 left in the second by firing a shot from the left point that wobbled on its way to the net and beat a screened Miller over his left shoulder.
Sabres fans expressed their unhappiness by booing the team off the ice after the second. And there were even more boos in the third when the Sabres managed seven shots and had difficulty getting out of their own end.
When Buffalo did get its few chances, Conklin turned them aside.
His best stops came in the first five minutes. Conklin held his ground to foil Drew Stafford’s chance from in close, as the Sabres forward broke in alone from the left boards. A few minutes later, he kicked out his left pad to turn away Cody McCormick’s shot from the slot.
Conklin got the start after Jaroslav Halak hurt his right hand and was placed on injured reserve Thursday. It was the 15th shutout of his career and second this season. He’s now beaten Buffalo with four teams, including Edmonton, Pittsburgh and Detroit.
“I don’t know, sometimes you get the bounces against certain teams, when there’s other teams that it feels like you’re going to give up six goals every time,” Conklin said. “It was a product of how the team plays in front of you.”
NOTES—Blues defenceman Carlo Colaiacovo did not return after Buffalo’s Patrick Kaleta caught him with his head down and levelled him with a heavy hit in the right corner of the Blues zone 4:33 into the third. Payne had no update on Colaiacovo’s status because the player was still being evaluated. … Brewer was dealt after dropping his no-trade clause. He was in the final year of a four-year US$17-million contract, and eligible to become an unrestricted free agent this summer. … Pegula is scheduled to close his $189-million purchase of the team from Tom Golisano early next week. Pegula cleared the final step in his purchase by receiving approval from the NHL board of governors, according to an anonymous source.