Share this article

print logo

Sabres' balance of power shifting lately Short-handed goals by foes are concern

The Buffalo Sabres view themselves as gunslingers when they're on a power play.

They send four forwards and only one defenseman onto the ice, and they fire away in earnest. Their aggressive approach is crucial to their ranking as the NHL's second-best team while up a man.

In sacrificing a rear guard for an extra sniper, however, Buffalo has been susceptible to the occasional backfire. Such misfortunes have been frequent lately.

The Sabres have allowed a league-high 12 short-handed goals and one in each of their past two games entering tonight's match with the Florida Panthers in HSBC Arena.

If Buffalo wants to avoid a season sweep, it wouldn't hurt to keep Florida from scoring while understaffed. It has done so only four times, but once was against Buffalo.

The Sabres' short-handed dirty dozen had them tied with woeful Washington for the most given up before Friday's NHL games. Four teams had allowed 11, and among them only the Nashville Predators were in the top half of their conference.

"We're going to have bad breaks, but so many of the power-play goals we scored were game-winners," said Sabres winger Maxim Afinogenov.

Sabres coach Lindy Ruff was aggravated after Montreal Canadiens center Radek Bonk scored while short-handed in Thursday's 3-2 overtime loss, but not enough to change the way his club does business: Shoot first, ask for defensive help later.

"I knew we were risking a little bit by playing [a forward on the point]," Ruff said. "I think the reward has still been a lot greater."

Ruff called heavy-shooting point forwards Ales Kotalik and Jason Pominville "the strength of our power play." Kotalik leads the Sabres with 10 power-play goals, while Pominville has seven in just 32 games.

But when the erstwhile forwards need to skate backward to quash a breakaway?

"We ask them to pray in that sense," Ruff said with a chuckle, "and that's not far from it."

Ruff in early December said he was considering a five-forward power play once co-captain Daniel Briere returns from a sports hernia. Since then, however, the Sabres have lost Tim Connolly and Jochen Hecht with knee injuries.

Bonk scored his second goal in 57 games when he followed Steve Begin on the rush. Begin had stripped Pominville, who had just swapped out a broken stick when he discovered lone defenseman Brian Campbell had slid a pass. Sabres goalie Ryan Miller made a fine save to deny Begin, but nobody took care of the trailer.

"You keep [a forward on the point] until it really costs you dearly," Ruff said. "I put the onus on all five guys. I don't even look at the forward being the issue. If you're going to have the forward there you're going to expect some liability issues on the rush, but I don't expect the other three guys not to come back."

Bonk's goal would have been the winner had Buffalo not scored with an extra attacker and only 27 seconds left in regulation time. The two point forwards teamed up on the tying goal, when Pominville deflected Kotalik's slap shot from the blue line.

Although the Sabres managed to register a point, not all was forgiven. Ruff was disgusted by Bonk's goal. So was Miller.

"It's something to address," Miller said. "We have to be more cautious, get into situations where we're in full control. I'm not one to talk. I don't run the power play, but I see teams making adjustments.

"Things happen. I'm not going to jump down anybody's throat for anything. They're out there trying to work hard. Things don't always develop the way they want to. But in the other regard, even though we have an extra man, we gotta be back quick and ready to take the body. We do a great job at even strength. When we're up a man maybe we gotta have the same attitude."

While the power-play strategy will remain, Ruff might juggle his lines for tonight's game. Jiri Novotny will switch back to center in light of Hecht's injury, and Ruff said he has been dissatisfied with the Thomas Vanek-Chris Drury-Mike Grier trio.

"We're still debating a massive shake-up on all lines," Ruff said. "We're looking to change probably all of them the next two games."


There are no comments - be the first to comment