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Sabres production lagged -- across the board Drop was more severe than the NHL trend

Goal scoring, particularly on the power play, has dipped in the NHL. In Buffalo, the tumble was profound.

From total goals to four-on-four tallies, from Thomas Vanek to Cody McCormick, the Sabres experienced nearly an across-the-board drop in production this season. They scored 211 goals after finding the net 240 times last year. It's one of the reasons they are in their third week on the sidelines while other teams are preparing for the second round of the playoffs.

"That's a substantial drop," General Manager Darcy Regier said. "Scoring is down in the league. It's not down to that extent. Those are adjustments that we have to consider in the offseason."

There were 6,545 goals scored in the NHL this season, down from 6,721. The overall team averages dropped from 224 goals (2.73 per game) to 218.2 (2.66). The Sabres' per-game average dived from 2.93 to 2.57.

Team-wise compared to last year, Buffalo's output decreased five-on-five (165-154), five-on-four (48-38), five-on-three (5-2), four-on-four (13-5) and empty net (6-4). The only increases came in four-on-three (3-1) and four-on-five (5-2).

The Sabres' power-play drop from 54 goals to 44 begins with a decrease in opportunities. They had 258 man-advantage situations, down from 279 last year. The league's power-play averages went from 52.4 goals on 291 chances to 46.9 goals on 271 opportunities.

"There's more emphasis on five-on-five play," Regier said. "There's more emphasis on competing for pucks, competing for body position on the ice. That blends into the team and in some ways the direction that you have to go."

The Sabres' scoring woes were felt everywhere from the first line to the fourth line to the blue line.

Forward Brad Boyes sustained the biggest blow to his stats. He had nine fewer goals, 23 fewer assists and 32 fewer points. Newcomer Ville Leino was right behind with a 28-point drop based on 11 fewer goals and 17 fewer assists than he had last season in Philadelphia.

Matching Leino for the biggest fall in goals with 11 was Drew Stafford, while Nathan Gerbe had 10 fewer tallies. Gerbe scored six times after potting 16 last season.

"It's so hard to pinpoint what the difference is," Gerbe said. "You take a bounce here and there, and it changes everyone's confidence in a way. I know for myself if you get a bounce it changes the way things go throughout the year.

"I think this game's 90 percent confidence, really. It's amazing when you see the guys who are always doing well how confident they are on the ice."

Thomas Vanek recorded six fewer goals and assists to experience a 12-point drop.

"I feel like I can be a top-25 scorer in this league and I was on that pace," Vanek said. "I dropped off, so for me it's get back to that level and stay on it all year long. I think if I can do that, this team is going to succeed."

The defensemen were plagued by substantial dips. Andrej Sekera scored the same number of goals (three) but had 16 fewer assists. Newcomer Christian Ehrhoff had nine fewer goals and 18 fewer points than he did last season in Vancouver, where he played 13 more games. Mike Weber dropped three goals and 12 points off his totals. Jordan Leopold had three fewer goals and 11 fewer points.

Players overwhelmingly blamed the production fall-off on injuries, a battering of their confidence and an inability to play in coach Lindy Ruff's system.

"The very foundational elements that teams master and look like they do effortlessly, we took too long to master it," goaltender Ryan Miller said. "By the end, we were really good at it. When you have it down you can worry about the creative stuff, and for too long we were thinking about what we had to do on the ice, thinking our way through the plays. "That was the difference. In the NHL, you're going to lose games if you're thinking about the game. You have to have it down. It has to be second nature. You have to be prepared."

email: jvogl@buffnews.com