It was pretty much a worst case scenario for the Senators, who missed out on the chance to gain ground on the idle Canadiens and Bruins, both on their bye week and Toronto's dominant win over the Islanders also closed the gap between the Ontario teams.
Bobby Ryan made his presence felt, perhaps feeling the heat that has recently been generated about town and the questions regarding his commitment. He scored the first Ottawa goal, to tie the game after Ryan O'Rielly had put the Sabres up on the first shot 24 seconds into the game. Overall, Ryan had six shots on goal (second on the team to Mike Hoffman's 7) and seven hits (second to Mark Borowiecki's 9) and showed more commitment and jump than he has in some time. That needs to continue if the Senators are going to make any kind of noise as the playoffs approach, and if that performance can be duplicated more often than not it will be like a big trade deadline acquisition.
Ryan also assisted on the Senators second goal, that put them ahead in the second period, but it was all Dion Phaneuf who channeled his inner Erik Karlsson for a rare coast to coast rush during which he gained the blue line and dished to Ryan, whose shot was stopped but Phaneuf was there to poke home the rebound.
Ottawa carried that lead into the third period, where they have had a very good record of holding leads, or at least winning games in which they have the lead after 40 minutes. Buffalo made sure early on that the game wasn't yet decided, scoring in the first minute for the second time in the game. Matt Moulson got credit for the goal after Jack Eichel gained the zone with speed, dropped to Sam Reinhart whose attempt was deflected over Craig Anderson's back and then it was put home by either Moulson, Erik Karlsson, Jean-Gabriel Pageau, or maybe a combination of all of the above, with all three having their sticks in the area. A shot from Jake McCabe from the point was tipped home by Justin Bailey less than seven minutes later as Buffalo took their second lead of the game, one that Lehner would make stand up.
I hate (although admittedly use frequently) the term "deserved a better fate", but Ottawa did in this game. Lehner was the difference as he took a stand on Sunday following a loss and backed up his words of criticism of his own team with his performance on the ice. The Sabres still have a lot of work to do, and each game from here on out is pretty much a playoff game, but they are still in the race.
Ottawa travels to New Jersey, a place they will visit twice in the next week in a schedule quirk that sees them kick off a short two game road trip this week, and a four game roadie starting next week. Sandwiched in between will be the lone remaining home game this month, Saturday against the Jets following a battle of Ontario tilt in Toronto for Hockey Day in Canada.
Ottawa will have to avoid looking