Scores are scarce for slumping Sabres - The Buffalo News
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Scores are scarce for slumping Sabres

The Buffalo Sabres don't have anyone in the top 50 in the NHL in goals. They don't have anyone in the top 60 in the league in points. Ryan Miller can continue to sizzle in goal but his fabulous play will continue to get undermined if the offense doesn't hold its end of the bargain.

And that means the money players. For the most part, they've been equal-opportunity offenders.

We're essentially at the quarter pole of the season and no Sabre is on a 30-goal pace. Thomas Vanek leads the team with only seven and there are slumps all over the place.

Leading scorer Tim Connolly has 17 points -- but no goals in his last 10 games. Clarke MacArthur has one goal in his last 11 games and Jason Pominville had one in 10 until scoring in the third period Saturday in Ottawa.

Derek Roy didn't score in October and is now on another four-game drought. Vanek is a minus-8 over the last five games and has three goals in his last 13. Drew Stafford has two goals in the last eight.

After the 5-3 loss to the Senators, coach Lindy Ruff pointed to the top six as a big reason for the 0-2-1 week that featured just six goals. He reiterated that point after practice Monday in HSBC Arena.

"We need our top six to push through for us and make a difference," Ruff said. "It's not easy. . . . You're not going to have all six guys on a given night. More on a nightly basis, we need more even-strength scoring out of that top six. Before [Saturday], we had nine even-strength goals in 10 games. That makes it awfully tough on the plus-minus."

"We definitely need to generate more offensively, especially five-on-five," said Pominville. "Our power play has gotten a couple goals and our penalty kill has been good but our five-on-five has just not been where we want it to be."

Ruff keeps tinkering with lines as a way to get his marquee names going. Roy was between Vanek and Pominville at Monday's practice with Connolly between MacArthur and Stafford, who practiced fully after missing Saturday's game with a bone bruise on his foot.

"We need Tim [Connolly] to score. We need Derek Roy to score," Ruff said. "That pack of those top six guys offensively has to make it tough on the other team. They have to be scared that these guys are going to score."

The Sabres tallied first in all three games last week and didn't win any of them. Penalty troubles in the second period killed momentum Friday against Boston and again on Saturday.

"We've been taking quite a few penalties, and I think when you do that the other teams' top forwards get to snap the puck around a little bit and get some chances," Connolly said. "When we get on five-on-five, we've got to refocus and go back on the attack instead of sitting back."

The Sabres entered Monday's play 26th in the league in goals and 13th out of 15 teams in the East. They have just 31 even-strength goals for the season -- a paltry 1.55 per game -- and have tallied three or less overall for 11 straight games.

For his part, Connolly said he doesn't think the team is frustrated.

"Sometimes when the puck doesn't go in you maybe overthink the game a little instead of just shooting," he said. "You're shooting when you should be passing and passing when you should be shooting.

"But it's never a bad play to put it on net. At the same time, trying to be a playmaker if a guy's open you've got to be able to find him and put it on his stick and give him the chance to shoot and score. That's part of my job, to try to make the guys around me better."

What the team really needs is somebody to go on a hot streak. Roy is the only Sabre thus far to score in as many as three straight games.

"Everybody is in that same pack," Pominville said. "The good thing is that we've got a lot of guys capable of scoring . . . Get a goal here and there, some confidence and all of a sudden you'll take off."

***

Winger Mike Grier, out the last five games with a groin injury, is getting closer to returning and Ruff hasn't ruled him out of Wednesday's game at Washington.

Winger Patrick Kaleta was the only player who didn't skate Monday. Ruff said Kaleta got a "maintenance" day for some soreness and should be ready Wednesday.

e-mail: mharrington@buffnews.com

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