BUFFALO - The ominous signs had been popping up for more than a week. The Sabres, mighty at the season's start, were starting to appear mortal.
They had fallen behind two goals in three of their last four games before Monday's clunker, a 5-2 loss to the once-reeling Ottawa Senators before a capacity crowd of 18,690 fans at HSBC Arena. The Sabres' power play, which had clicked for two or more goals three times during the first week, had two straight donuts and just two tallies in four games.
After killing off their first 26 penalties this season, opponents had finally converted a couple of chances. And teams had pumped 32 or more shots on Buffalo in three of the last four contests.
Nonetheless, the Sabres kept plowing through the schedule and got a point from their first eight games. But it appeared they would finally lose a game in regulation soon. And it looked like they could lay an egg while doing it.
They did both against Ottawa, falling behind 5-0 to a team which had dropped its last four and was due for a statement game.
"The way it happened, it was not pretty," Sabres defenseman Toni Lydman said of the Sabres' first regulation loss. "They were just better."
Added coach Lindy Ruff: "We're just going to dump that one in the trash can and move on."
Buffalo's rough schedule didn't help, either.
"I knew we were going to be in pretty tough," Ruff said. "… We didn't have a lot of jump. We didn't have a lot of pop."
The Sabres (6-1-2) looked spent throughout, and that might've been a bigger factor in the drubbing than any earlier trends they continued. They got back from their 2-1 shootout loss in Denver early Sunday morning, and then held an optional practice with about 14 players in the afternoon, something Ruff seemed to regret.
"I can make excuses," Ruff said. "There's no use making excuses. We decided to skate (Sunday) late. … It was evident (Monday) that the guys that logged a lot of minutes didn't quite have it - didn't have the hands, didn't have the legs and our passing, which had been so good, wasn't very good. It was frustrating."
Monday kicked off three home games in six nights for the Sabres. They don't play again until Thursday against Tampa Bay, so Ruff gave the players off today, and they will enjoy the rest.
"The time change was more than we thought," said Sabres defenseman Jaroslav Spacek, who was on the ice for three of the Sens' first four goals, one less time than Andrej Sekera, his partner. Spacek also gave the puck away on Ottawa's first goal.
The Sabres still had plenty of chances to seize early control, however. But they couldn't convert a man advantage 15 seconds into the game or another about midway through the opening period. Had they gotten one, it might've buoyed them a little. The power play, with two late tallies from Clarke MacArthur and Teppo Numminen, finished two of 10.
"I think we could've gained a little confidence," Ruff said of the early chances. "Instead, we got a little frustrated and we tried a little harder with some individual stuff that didn't work."
The Senators, meanwhile, scored two early power-play goals and led 3-0 4:48 into the second period.
Jason Spezza scored two goals and three points for the Senators (3-5-1). Dany Heatley had a goal and an assist. Christoph Schubert and Shean Donovan had the other tallies.
Alex Auld made 25 saves in net for Ottawa. Backup Patrick Lalime, who helped the Sabres have the league's stingiest defense (1.6 goals a game), stopped 23 shots in his first home appearance and third overall.
The Sabres figured Ottawa, which possesses some of the league's most dynamic talent, would charge out of the gate.
"Their record doesn't really indicate what their team is all about," Sabres forward Jason Pominville said. "We were on a roll; they were desperate for a win. They needed this. Usually when we play them the intensity rises, and they definitely did that."