LOS ANGELES -- The Buffalo Sabres haven't had the puck nearly enough this season, with classic statistics as well as analytics making the point clear. Their challenge Thursday night was a team that has mastered possession over the last few years.
The Sabres never figured they would be near the bottom of the NHL in possession numbers this year but that's where they are. They entered their game against the Los Angeles Kings ranked 29th in Corsi percentage in 5-on-5 play at 46.9 percent. Only Arizona was worse at 45.8. The Kings, meanwhile, led the league at 55.25.
The Sabres were 24th last year in Corsi, a measure of your shot attempts against the total attempts in the game. And while it's true shot attempts are at the mercy of arena stat crews, you can certainly draw conclusions from teams ranked high or low in the statistic.
Center Ryan O'Reilly, the workhorse who leads NHL forwards in ice time, knew the Sabres were struggling but had no idea of the actual numbers until he was told about them after practice Wednesday.
"That's disappointing for sure," O'Reilly said. "I didn't think we'd be that low and that's certainly not what we want. Maybe we're throwing the puck away too easy when we get it. We're going to the right areas but we're just a split-second behind and it can show the way we get hemmed in.
"Once we stop thinking and gain some momentum we start to play hockey. Win your battle, trust your instincts and you start to generate more."
At 5-on-5, the Sabres have yielded 3,310 shot attempts, or 47.28 per game. Only Arizona (3,449) and the New York Islanders (3,412) have given up more. In terms of strict shots on goal, the Sabres have been outshot in 45 of their first 70 games this season and entered Thursday last in the NHL in shots on goal against at 34.2 per game. They were 16th in shots for at 30.2 and 22nd in goals with 177.
"We've gone through stretches and phases where we've been better at it but it's really on both sides of the puck having to defend too much, and giving up possession of the puck has been a big thing to cause," coach Dan Bylsma said before the game. "Same with us getting to the offensive zone and not being able to possess it. That's where we're good, where we create offense but it's not something we've been able to do with any consistency."
The Sabres were outshot, 41-23, in Tuesday's 4-1 loss in San Jose and the attempts were also lopsided (74-50). They have been outshot by 10 or more shots 20 times this season, but have managed to go 9-7-4 in those games thanks mostly to stellar play from goaltenders Robin Lehner and Anders Nilsson.
Tuesday's contest was the 10th time in 12 games the Sabres have yielded at least 30 shots on goal -- and the 26th time in 29 games the count has finished at 30 or more. One factor has been the inability of the Buffalo defense corps to carry the puck or make crisp passes to get it ou tof the defensive zone.
"Possession is talked about more having it in the offensive zone," Bylsma said. "But the biggest aspects of possession are transitioning the puck and moving it up the ice. That's really on both the defensemen and the forwards."
Defenseman Taylor Fedun joined the Sabres for the game after being called up from Rochester to replace Justin Falk, who is nursing a calf injury. Fedun drove to Toronto to escapes the snow that enveloped Rochester and took a direct flight here, arriving just after the team's optional morning skate ended. The Amerks game Wednesday against Binghamton was postponed by the weather.
"It was pretty bad. The snow had slowed up finally a couple hours before I left," Fedun said. "The past 48 hours have been pretty crazy. Our game got canceled becuse there was a travel ban. Getting out of parking lots in spaces, there was so much wind and the snow banks built up so it was crazy."
The Sabres headed down the freeway for Anaheim immediately after the game and will face the Ducks Friday night at 10 p.m. Eastern in their final game of the season against the Western Conference. The Ducks beat Buffalo, 5-2, Feb. 9 in KeyBank Center.
"This is really one of the tougher swings in hockey with these three teams in four nights," O'Reilly said of the Sharks, Kings and Ducks. "They're all heavy teams. They're all strong. They've all had success in the league recently. They're veterans. They always play the right way and there's never an easy battle."
Former Buffalo defenseman Brayden McNabb was a healthy scratch for the Kings for the third time in the last four games. He has two goals, two assists and a plus-4 rating in 38 games this season.
Sabres winger Hudson Fasching, acquired along with Nic Deslauriers in the 2014 trade for McNabb, played his first NHL game since Oct. 30 after his recall from Rochester on Monday. Justin Bailey sat out after taking a shot to the foot on Tuesday.