The universally recognized edge the Buffalo Sabres hold over the New York Islanders is their forward depth. The Sabres utilize four potent lines, dress 12 forwards who can score at any time.
So far, only one has.
Sabres forwards have just two goals through two games of their Eastern Conference quarterfinal, and Chris Drury had both in Game One. This is the first time this season the Sabres have gone two games in a row without two different forwards on the score sheet.
If the Sabres want to take a 2-1 series lead tonight after Game Three in Nassau Coliseum, their forwards may need to find the net.
"We need more probably from the forwards, but it's coming," Sabres defenseman Jaroslav Spacek said Sunday. "Everyone knows they scored lots of goals in the regular season, and the forwards are hungry for us."
The Sabres are stacked from top to bottom, but it's the top that has coach Lindy Ruff's attention. The No. 1 line of center Daniel Briere, left wing Jochen Hecht and right wing Jason Pominville -- who combined for 85 goals and 134 assists in the regular season -- has been subpar. Briere, the catalyst, has just one shot in each game.
"That's a line that we count on," Ruff said. "We definitely expect more from them, expect more from every line. I think our defense has played fine, but I expect more from our forward lines."
Briere admitted after Sunday's practice in HSBC Arena that his line has been disjointed. It is averaging just two shots per period. Briere hopes it rekindled its chemistry in the latter portion of Saturday's 3-2 loss.
"The second half of the game I thought our line created more and finally started creating chances," Briere said. "In the first game it wasn't there, and the first half of [Saturday's] game it was the same thing. It just seemed like we weren't reading off each other really well. When one guy would chip it behind the net, the other guy wouldn't be there, where usually we know where everybody's at on the ice."
When the Sabres did get chances in Game Two, Rick DiPietro was there to thwart them. The Islanders goaltender stopped all 26 shots taken by the forwards, including 10 from the line of Derek Roy, Thomas Vanek and Maxim Afinogenov.
"We had a lot of chances, we created a lot, we just couldn't finish," Vanek said. "It's frustrating, but if you look at it the other way, we could have had four or five by now. As long as we get our chances and stuff, we need to bury them a little better."
Ruff juggled two lines during Saturday's game, and it's expected he'll keep the mix tonight. Drew Stafford joined Drury and Dainius Zubrus, while Ales Kotalik went down to Tim Connolly and Adam Mair. Kotalik has only one shot this series, but Ruff thinks Connolly can improve that total.
"Tim is a guy that can usually find Al," Ruff said.
The Islanders are well aware Sabres forwards were the key to Buffalo leading the NHL in five-on-five goals. New York's plan has been to make them skate the length of the ice in order to get a shot.
"We wanted to make sure we were getting the pucks in deep, making them come 180 feet or 200 feet, and make sure that we clog up the middle," Islanders left wing Ryan Smyth said. "They've got a lot of speed and a lot of depth, a lot of guys that show that little creativity, so we've got to make sure that we're playing smart and being solid."
Sabres defensemen have four of the team's six goals this series. Though the players said Sunday they don't care where the goals come from -- just that they come -- the forwards probably will need to outscore the blue-liners for the Sabres to regain home-ice advantage.
"Our forwards have had some opportunities to score, big opportunities that we haven't converted on," Ruff said. "We're going to need big goals and big plays, and that's going to have to come from the forwards."