The Buffalo Sabres, at least during interviews, continue to express belief they are a good team. Good teams, however, find ways to score goals. The Sabres can't score goals.
The Sabres trailed the Tampa Bay Lightning by one goal entering the third period Saturday. They needed one shot, one rebound, one fortuitous bounce to tie the game and perhaps salvage at least a point on their Florida road trip. Not surprisingly, they didn't get it.
The Sabres stayed stuck on one and lost, 3-1. They fell to 2-15 when trailing after two periods. It was the eighth time in their 33 games they've scored one goal or none, which equates to nearly 25 percent of their outings. They've finished with a mere two goals nine times, so in more than half their games they've lit the goal lamp twice or less.
It's little wonder, then, why they have lost 20 times (including 16 in regulation) and won only 13.
"It's a one-goal game," forward Rob Niedermayer said of the Tampa loss. "We've got to try and find a way to get that goal. It doesn't matter how, you've just got to generate it somehow. It doesn't really count being close."
The Sabres rank 25th in the 30-team NHL in scoring at just 2.46 goals per game. It's primarily because they have no depth, no secondary help.
The top line of Thomas Vanek (13 goals), Derek Roy (10) and Drew Stafford (eight) has scored 31 of Buffalo's 81 goals. That's a whopping 38.3 percent. If they don't score, the Sabres are obviously in trouble.
Buffalo is a respectable 11-8-2 when at least one member of the top line scores. They are a terrible 2-8-2 when the line is shut out.
"We've got to get back to all four lines contributing and go from there," right wing Mike Grier said. "When it comes down to it, you've got to try and outwork the guy next to you, outbattle the line you're out against. We've got to get some ugly goals now because they're not going in the pretty way."
Actually, they're not going in at all. Grier has just two goals in 33 games. Jochen Hecht and Paul Gaustad have scored only three times in their 33 games. Tyler Ennis has scored twice in the past 14 games.
As expected, the scoring boost from the blue line also has disappeared. Buffalo defensemen led the league in goals through the first six weeks of the season. They haven't scored since Nov. 27, when Jordan Leopold hit the net against Montreal. They haven't been helping teammates find the net, either, aside from Tyler Myers and Andrej Sekera.
The blue-line partners have combined for seven assists in six games, but they produce alone. Leopold has one assist in his last eight. Mike Weber (11 games), Steve Montador (12) and Chris Butler (16) are on extended pointless droughts.
The next chance to end them comes Tuesday when the Anaheim Ducks visit HSBC Arena. It would help if all the players watched the shift that created Buffalo's lone goal Saturday and worked to emulate it.
Hecht put his head down and outskated Tampa defenseman Mike Lundin, got position and knocked him off the puck. Jason Pominville skated hard to the net and was alone at the crease to deflect in his third goal in five games.
It was a combination of ugly work and pretty hockey. It's a combination that is usually lacking during the Sabres' scoreless nights. The Lightning and Florida Panthers scored on crisp pass plays and on-target shots, but the Sabres haven't proved they can perform with that talented style. Basic plays like Pominville's goal apparently are what they need.
"You see how the goals are scored now," Niedermayer said. "They're all kind of paying the price in front of the net, and a lot of them are like that. When you're having trouble scoring, that's the way you've got to try and score, just throw it at the net and get in there."
Sabres offense /Sobering facts
*Eight times in 33 games, scored one goal or none.
*Are 2-15 when trailing after two periods.
*Are 2-8-2 when top line is shut out.
*Rank 25th (30-teams) with 2.46 goals per game.