BUFFALO, N.Y. – Evgeni Nabokov readily admitted he made saves against the Buffalo Sabres on shots he couldn’t see.
Whether he tracked them or not didn’t matter. The bottom line is no pucks got past him.
Nabokov stopped all 35 shots he faced in leading the New York Islanders to a 4-0 win over the slumping Sabres on Saturday night.
“Sometimes it’s funny how it works,” Nabokov said, assessing his 53rd NHL shutout and first against Buffalo. “Today, every time I tried to look or just guess where the puck was going to go, because I had no chance to see it, the puck was able to hit me.”
It was the same case for the Islanders’ opportunistic offence, which had the puck bounce its way, too. New York took advantage of numerous Sabres turnovers by scoring four times over the final 22 minutes to bring the boo birds out again in Buffalo.
Mark Streit and Michael Grabner broke the game open with goals 65 seconds apart late in the second period. John Tavares and Colin McDonald sealed the win with third-period goals. Matt Moulson added two assists in helping the Islanders (8-9-1) win their second straight and fourth in six games.
“Any time your goalie makes big saves, it gives you a boost,” Islanders coach Jack Capuano said. “It shows a lot of character on the team there. They didn’t get frustrated.”
No, the familiar signs of frustration were reserved for the spiraling Sabres. They have lost four straight, are in the midst of a 4-12-1 skid, and are showing little signs of a turnaround days after longtime coach Lindy Ruff was fired.
This loss came in Ron Rolston’s second game as the Sabres’ interim coach, and first at home, following a 3-1 loss at Toronto on Thursday.
Much like the Sabres were booed off the ice in Ruff’s final game, a 2-1 loss to Winnipeg on Tuesday, the fans were back at it Saturday.
“The fans are entitled to do what they want,” forward Thomas Vanek said. “I’m sure they’re frustrated. They want a winning product on the ice, and so do we.
“We’re a good team right now that finds a dumb way to lose.”
Fans started booing late in the second period, when the Sabres fell behind 2-0. By the third, they turned their angry attention to general manager Darcy Regier, by chanting: “Goodbye, Darcy!”
Even Sabres owner Terry Pegula’s daughter, Jessie, got into knocking the Sabres in a post on her Twitter account. During the game she wrote: “Let’s just call a spade a spade. The Sabres are just really bad.”
Streit opened the scoring with 2:09 remaining by capitalizing on an odd-man rush. Moulson set up the goal by driving up the right side and patiently waiting for the play to develop. Streit got a step on Sabres forward Kevin Porter and snapped in Moulson’s pass through the middle into the open right side.
Grabner then scored on a breakaway after he intercepted defenceman Christian Ehrhoff’s lazy pass across the middle inside the Islanders blue line.
“Not a good play. I’ve got to know I’m out against Grabner and he likes to cheat on those plays,” Ehrhoff said. “It’s frustrating. You have to put it behind you.”
Nothing got behind Nabokov.
He got his pad out to stop Steve Ott’s one-timer from the slot with 7:25 left and, a few seconds later, somehow got his glove up to deny Tyler Ennis’ backhander from in close.
About two minutes later, Nabokov made a glove save to rob Drew Stafford, who was alone to the right of the net. Nabokov then somehow managed to snag a backhander that Vanek directed at the net through a screen.
Add it all up, and the 2-0 deficit marked the 18th time in 19 games this season the Sabres haven’t had a lead entering the third period.
Improving to 6-3-1 on the road this season, the Islanders will now turn their attention to addressing their struggles at home.
New York, an NHL-worst 2-6 at home, will open a seven-game homestand on Sunday against Carolina.
“We have no choice, but we have to play better in front of our fans,” Nabokov said.
NOTES: The Sabres have lost 12 times through their first 19 games for the first time since a 4-12-3 start in the 1986-87 season. … Sabres D Alexander Sulzer missed the final two periods because of a lower body injury. … The Islanders recalled G Kevin Poulin from AHL Bridgeport after veteran G Rick DiPietro cleared waivers and was assigned to the minor league club. … Sabres rookie C Mikhail Grigorenko returned after sitting out three games as a healthy scratch.