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Goal-less Ristolainen hopes Sabres find answers with new-look power play

After the Sabres finished practice Monday, Buffalo coaches Phil Housley and Davis Payne met with Rasmus Ristolainen at the blue line.

"I want more from myself, and I think they want more from myself, too, and for everyone," the defenseman said.

Not surprisingly, the conversation included the Sabres' struggling power play, which will have a new look Tuesday when Tampa Bay visits KeyBank Center.

Housley has again split up the top five of Ristolainen, Jack Eichel, Ryan O'Reilly, Kyle Okposo and Sam Reinhart. They lifted the Sabres to the top of the NHL power-play chart last year but have stumbled to 30th place this season.

Eichel and Reinhart practiced with Evander Kane and defensemen Nathan Beaulieu and Victor Antipin in HarborCenter. Ristolainen, O'Reilly and Okposo welcomed forwards Jason Pominville and Matt Moulson to their unit.

"We know we've got to be better," said O'Reilly, who saw potential in the coaches' changes. "It's something we're frustrated with and something they’re frustrated with. Hopefully, give it another look and let's get going."

The Sabres are 0 for 15 on the power play in the last six games, which is part of the reason the team is on a 1-6-2 slide. Buffalo is 10 for 75 with the man-advantage this season (13.3 percent), including just 4 for 38 at home (10.5 percent).

The Sabres had a 24.5 percent success rate last season, including 27.6 percent in KeyBank Center.

"It's not that different," O'Reilly said of the power-play game plan. "What worked last year isn't working this year. It's the way the game goes. You have to reinvent yourself every year.

"Last year the way we started off, things worked for us because we were confident. We found a way to put it in. I think we're doing a lot of the same things. It's just we're not getting the result and scoring, and we're not as confident as were.

"Last year, it felt like we stepped on the ice and we were going to score. This year, we're overthinking or trying to do too much. It's just not there."

The Sabres looked crisper during practice and scored a few goals. It's certain they'll also look at tape of Tampa Bay. The Lightning penalty killers have allowed a power-play goal in three of their last four games, including a 3-for-5 showing by Pittsburgh on Saturday.

"It starts with speed," O'Reilly said. "That's what we've talked about. It's coming up with speed together. If we don't have anything, get it in deep and outwork them from there.

"It's not a complicated thing."

The Sabres have had problems across the power-play board. Sometimes they can't get the puck in the zone. Other times, they don't move quick enough to find open looks. Sometimes they get looks and miss the net.

Buffalo defensemen have yet to hit the net at all. With 24 games gone, the Sabres are still the only team without a goal from the blue line. The defensemen have combined for 202 shots, and none have gone in.

"I've been thinking about it personally for myself why I haven't scored," Ristolainen said. "Early in the year we maybe were struggling with our net-front presence, and I feel that now it's been there. We've got to keep shooting, and one day it will go in, for sure."

There's no better day than the present for the Sabres. They need the boost of confidence as they attempt to turn around their 6-14-4 start.

"I'd love to see our D score a goal," Housley said. "In this league, there's not only a first layer but you've got a second layer of guys, so you've got to do things quicker. I'd like to see our D continue to try and find that shot lane and deliver a puck a lot quicker so teams can't get into the shot lanes.

"Obviously, we want more production from our defense as a whole."

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