Flyers' offense sputters in loss to lowly Sabres

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Buffalo Sabres Nicolas Deslauriers (44) lands a punch against Philadelphia Flyers Brandon Manning (23) during the first period of an NHL hockey game, Tuesday, Jan. 10, 2017, in Buffalo, N.Y.

BUFFALO - Two nights after dropping a hard-fought overtime decision to the NHL's best team, Columbus, the Flyers showed they can also lose to one of the league's bottom-feeders.

Buffalo 4, Flyers 1.

Backup goalie Anders Nilsson, who was in the lineup because Robin Lehner came down with the flu, keyed the victory with 39 saves Tuesday night at the KeyBank Center.

Defensive breakdowns, sloppy execution, and the inability to finish their quality scoring chances doomed the Flyers, who have lost nine of their last 11 since their 10-game winning streak was snapped.

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"We've got to find ways to close out games," losing goalie Steve Mason said. "That 10-game win streak seems like a long time ago right now."

The Flyers had 40 shots on goal - including seven by Shayne Gostisbehere and five each by Brayden Schenn and Dale Weise - but not many of them were Grade-A chances.

"We can have all the chances we want, but if they don't go in the net, they don't count," said Gostisbehere, the snakebit defenseman who hit the post for the fourth time in the last couple of weeks. "I think it's a reality check for us. We have to bear down, go to the dirty areas, and get some goals."

The Flyers averted a shutout on Schenn's power-play goal - they had a six-on-four because Mason was pulled for an extra attacker - with 2 minutes, 7 seconds left.

Buffalo's Marcus Foligno scored an empty-net goal with 3.3 seconds remaining.

The Sabres took a 3-0 lead on second-period goals by Sam Reinhart (power-play score from near the left post), Will Carrier (juicy rebound), and Evander Kane.

"Just a relapse," Gostisbehere said of the team's listless second period.

"It shows if you don't play 60 minutes in this league, you're not going to get the result," said Schenn, who is tied for the NHL lead with nine power-play goals. "We let down for one period and before you know it, it's 3-0."

Kane's goal was a killer. His 25-foot shot beat Mason with 8.9 seconds left in the period and it followed a turnover by Andrew MacDonald (minus-2) and a botched clearing attempt by Wayne Simmonds.

"After we gave up the power-play goal, we didn't check very well the rest of the period and that was the difference," coach Dave Hakstol said.

The Flyers, who still hold the Eastern Conference's final wild-card spot despite their skid, also faced a 3-0 deficit to Buffalo entering the third period when the teams met Oct. 25. The Flyers, sparked by three power-play goals, rallied for a 4-3 shootout victory.

This time, there was no dramatic comeback.

The Flyers had the last nine shots in a scoreless first period, but the 6-foot-6, 229-pound Nilsson had all the answers, including six saves during a sharp Flyers power play.

In the second period, Nilsson made nice stops on Jake Voracek and Gostisbehere among his 13 saves. With about two minutes left in the second and the Flyers in a 2-0 hole, Gostisbehere was robbed from close range, and his backhander went wide on the rebound.

Mason made his 24th start in the last 27 games, and though his workload figures to decrease in the season's second half because of Michal Neuvirth's return, he will play a bulk of the contests, Hakstol said.

"Mase has been our guy . . . and, no, I don't have a plan right now to go back and forth with a rotation," Hakstol said.

Neuvirth recorded a 4-2 win Saturday over Tampa Bay in his only appearance since returning.

"We know what Neuvy brings to the table," Hakstol said. "He's played one good game [after] coming off a lengthy absence with an injury. I think there's still a few steps for him to take to get back to midseason form."

Then again, it won't matter who is in the net if the Flyers offense keeps sputtering. They have just 19 goals in their last 11 games.

Hakstol complimented Nilsson's strong play, but added that "our will to get to the front of the net needs to be better, especially when things aren't going in easily."

scarchidi@phillynews.com

@BroadStBull