BUFFALO - A Flyers season that started so promisingly - including wins over Stanley Cup champion Chicago and the powerful Rangers - has hit a roadblock.
A new-look lineup made no difference Friday as the Flyers dropped their third straight, falling to Buffalo, 3-1, before a Halloween-themed crowd at the First Niagara Center.
"As a team, we were slower. We were second on the puck, and that's why we took so many penalties," right winger Jake Voracek said. "We got outplayed."
"We haven't been able to get into any kind of rhythm in these last couple games," coach Dave Hakstol said.
In the opener of a five-game road trip that continues Monday in Vancouver, goalie Michal Neuvirth (33 saves) was outstanding in his first appearance since he suffered a head injury in Boston on Oct. 21.
The rest of the team, however, didn't show their 27-year-old goalie much support. Once again, the offense created little attack time, and Buffalo was allowed to spend large portions of the game in the offensive zone.
The Flyers committed eight minor penalties and gave Buffalo six power plays.
"We have to stay out of the penalty box," Neuvirth said. "We spent way too much time killing penalties."
The Flyers killed five of the six power plays, but it took them out of the flow of the game.
"In the second period, we spent all of our energy killing penalties off," Hakstol said.
Defenseman Michael Del Zotto had two of the team's five second-period infractions (high stick, cross checking).
Ten seconds after the Flyers (4-4-2) squandered a power play for the eighth straight time in their last four games, Buffalo (4-7) made it 3-0 on a picturesque two-on-one goal with 16 minutes, 48 seconds left in the game.
Nicolas Deslauriers took a slick feed from Ryan O'Reilly (three points) and, with one hand on his stick, redirected a bouncing puck past Neuvirth.
Mark Streit's goal, off a nice feed from R.J. Umberger, got the Flyers within 3-1 with 3:26 remaining, but there would be no dramatic comeback.
Buffalo took a 2-0 lead into the final period; it would have been 5-0 if Neuvirth hadn't been at his best. The Sabres, skating circles around the visitors with their speed, had a 31-14 shots advantage in the first two periods, and many of them were point-blank chances.
In a Buffalo-dominated second period, Neuvirth robbed David Legwand three times, including a breakaway.
The Sabres, who scored a 4-3 overtime win at the Wells Fargo Center on Tuesday, took a 1-0 lead when rookie Jack Eichel, skating left to right to avoid Evgeny Medvedev, scored on a wrist shot from the slot with 36 seconds left in the opening period.
Neuvirth, a former Sabre, was screened by Zemgus Girgensons, and had no chance on O'Reilly's left-circle shot, a power-play goal with 15:40 remaining in the second period to give Buffalo a 2-0 cushion. Vinny Lecavalier was in the penalty box for interference when O'Reilly scored his fourth of the season.
It was the fifth straight game the Flyers had allowed at least one power-play goal, and their penalty kill clearly misses injured centers Sean Couturier and Pierre-Eduoard Bellemare.
Rookie Linus Ullmark, a sixth-round draft pick in 2012 who made the second start of his career, made 27 saves and notched his first win.
For most of the game, the Flyers used restructured lines, but Hakstol went back to some familiar combinations in the third period, putting Voracek (four shots) back with Claude Giroux.
"We didn't generate a whole lot in the first couple periods," said Hakstol, whose team had as many shots in the final period (14) as in the first two periods combined.