If the Sabres ever want to break out of their scoring and power-play slumps, Thursday is the night to do it.
The offensively challenged Sabres, who have been shut out in two of the last four games and are coming off a 2-1 overtime loss to Edmonton, host the defensively inept Flames. Calgary ranks 29th in goals allowed at 3.1 per game and has the NHL’s 30th-ranked penalty kill at just 72.8 percent.
Taking advantage of the Flames’ short-handed unit will be a needed key. Buffalo’s power play has been blanked in 10 of the last 13 games while going just 5 for 39 (7.8 percent).
“When we were at our best on the power play, our entries and setup were around the 70 percent mark, which is a pretty good mark,” Sabres coach Dan Bylsma said in First Niagara Center. “Right now we’re significantly off that mark in terms of breaking in and gaining possession and setting up.
“If you watch the power play now in general over the past, you feel like you’re looking at 20 seconds and 30 seconds of zone time versus winning a draw and having two minutes of zone time or a full minute of zone time, or getting an entry and getting set up and having significant time in zone. That’s really to me where we’ve been at in our issues and problems with the power play in the last little bit.
“It leads to maybe a little more frantic in-zone. … You’ve had two or three breakouts, now you get a little more pressured in-zone, you have a little more frantic play and you have poor shot selection. They dump it down the ice, and now you’re building frustration in your power play. That’s kind of where we’ve been at in the last little bit.”
The Sabres are missing three members of their power play with Jamie McGinn traded to Anaheim and Ryan O’Reilly and Cody Franson injured. Franson, boarded in Columbus Feb. 19, skated with the team once last week but hasn’t been on the ice again.
“I would say that it kind of has gone the wrong way for him,” Bylsma said. “When he skated in Anaheim, he felt real close to being ready to come back to play or return to health. Right now it’s just not the case for him. He’s dealing with a strained neck and some other issues.
“Obviously, right now he’s not on the ice and not feeling ready to go on the ice.”
Robin Lehner will start in goal for the Sabres. For the second straight game, Buffalo’s matchup will feature two players drafted near each other as Sam Reinhart and Sam Bennett meet. Reinhart has 18 goals, 11 assists and 29 points in 61 games, while the Flames’ Bennett has 15 goals, 16 assists and 31 points in 62 games.
Reinhart set up the Sabres’ lone goal Tuesday and feels the chances are there despite the lack of production for the team.
“We do need to find a way to kind of bear down a little bit more,” Reinhart said. “That’s something we’re going to have to do tonight against a team with a lot of skill.
“Last game, I felt like we created some. It wasn’t for the full game that we would have liked to, but I think the opportunities were still there for us.”