It was an unfortunate ending to another remarkable performance by Carter Hutton.
The Buffalo Sabres’ starting goalie made 14 saves in the second period to keep his teammates in the game after they lost Jack Eichel to an injury. However, Hutton’s final start of 2018 will be remembered for the save he couldn’t make in a 3-1 loss to the New York Islanders on Monday in KeyBank Center.
Brock Nelson’s wrist shot skipped off Hutton’s glove and into the net to give the Islanders a 2-0 lead 1:45 into the third period and proved to be the deciding goal for New York’s fourth win in a row. Nick Leddy and Ryan Pulock also scored to prevent the Sabres from overcoming the loss of their captain.
Buffalo, now 21-13-6 with with 48 points, remains only two points ahead of Boston for third place in the Atlantic Division. The Sabres avoided the shutout when Kyle Okposo scored a power-play goal at 10:14 into the third period, and they outshot the Islanders, 13-3, during the third period and 40-33 in the game.
Coach Phil Housley was forced to shuffle personnel to account for losing Eichel, who played 2:42 over four shifts despite being a game-time decision for an undisclosed reason. Buffalo’s captain left in the first period and did not return.
Leddy scored in the second period for a 1-0 lead, and Robin Lehner, who played the previous three seasons in Buffalo, withstood a late Sabres rally. The Islanders, 21-13-4 with 46 points, could have ran away with the game but Hutton was outstanding for the first two periods.
4-7-4: The Sabres are now 4-7-4 since they won their 10th consecutive game on Nov. 27 against San Jose.
Top shelf: The Islanders broke the scoreless tie 2:59 into the second period when Leddy’s slap shot went over Hutton’s glove for a 1-0 lead. It was Leddy’s second goal of the season.
On the kill: The Sabres killed both of their second-period penalties, improving their penalty kill to 32-for-34 over the past 12 games. Hutton stopped Anthony Beauvillier’s backhanded shot from atop the crease shortly after Zach Bogosian was called for slashing.
Difficult second: Hutton had a large hand in the Sabres trailing by only one goal after 40 minutes. He stopped Casey Cizikas during a 3-on-1 odd-man rush and made an impressive glove save to stop Pulock’s slap shot with 6:59 remaining in the second period.
500: This was Vladimir Sobotka’s 500th career NHL game and the 31-year-old winger was given the start. He responded with one of his best periods of the season while centering a line that included Tage Thompson and Jason Pominville.
Shuffling lines: With Eichel out, Housley was forced to shuffle his lines. Sobotka and Evan Rodrigues both played with Jeff Skinner and Sam Reinhart on the top line. Kyle Okposo was reunited with Conor Sheary and Casey Mittelstadt on the second line.
Finally: Okposo had not scored in 21 consecutive games and was demoted to the fourth line during practice Sunday. His goal in the third period was his sixth of the season and his first since he scored in a 2-1 win over Tampa Bay on Nov. 13.
Highlight save: Hutton made one of the Sabres’ more impressive saves of the season in the first when he stretched out to use the paddle of his stick to stop Josh Bailey, who had half the net open for a one-timer attempt.
Smith in: Winger C.J. Smith, who was recalled from Rochester on Monday morning, replaced Remi Elie on the fourth line, skating with Johan Larsson and Okposo.
Lineup changes: Defenseman Lawrence Pilut was a healthy scratch for a second consecutive game. The 23-year-old had played in nine consecutive games while healthy but was again replaced by Nathan Beaulieu. Matt Hunwick was also a healthy scratch.
Family ties: Jennifer Botterill, the sister of Sabres General Manager Jason Botterill, was in KeyBank Center for the game as part of the Islanders’ broadcast team on MSG. Jennifer won Gold as a forward on Team Canada’s Olympic hockey team in 2002, 2006 and 2010.
Next: The Sabres are off Tuesday and will return to the HarborCenter ice Wednesday morning. They host the Panthers on Thursday at 7 p.m.