The offense may be gurgling along during five-on-five situations but the Buffalo Sabres seem to have found their stride on the power play in recent weeks at HSBC Arena.
The Sabres have converted a whopping 33 percent of their man-advantage chances at home over the last 10 games and continued that hot streak with two power-play goals in Tuesday night's 2-1 victory over the Montreal Canadiens.
The Sabres have scored at least one power play goal in seven of their last eight games overall and have really been humming of late at home. After Tuesday's game, Buffalo was 15 for 43 (34.8) in its last 11 home games to just 16.2 percent in its last 10 on the road (6 for 37).
The struggles on the power play were a main reason the Sabres went winless at home in October and went 0-6-1 in their first seven games downtown. Buffalo finally made the home record even at 11-11-1 after Tuesday's win.
The power play was just 2 for 24 during the seven-game winless skid and was eventually just 5 for 54 here, drawing nightly jeers from the fans, before finally getting straightened out.
The units have not undergone any seismic shifts in personnel. They've simply been doing a far better job of retrieving the puck and controlling it in the offensive zone.
"It comes down to nuts and bolts," said defenseman Jordan Leopold. "Effort is one thing. Competing and getting pucks back is another. We've done a good job of getting our opportunities to the net and when there's a puck up for grabs, we've been first to pucks a lot. That's changed.
"Earlier in the year, we were seeing the puck go back down the ice every 10-15 seconds and you can't get any momentum that way. We've been able to get zone time, create opportunities and the team feeds off that as well."
"It's just intensity," added defenseman Tyler Myers. "Especially at home, we've been willing to outwork other teams to get the puck back. When we lose it in the offensive zone, we've been getting it right back. We don't let them shoot it down the ice and that's a huge thing. Having quick puck movement is big. Before we were a slow puck-moving team. It just doesn't work like that."
Thomas Vanek and Drew Stafford have been major factors as well. Vanek has nine of his team-high 17 goals on the power play this season, tied for fifth in the NHL (Tampa Bay's Steven Stamkos leads with 14). Stafford has six of his 15.
"We've been doing a better job of traffic, getting pucks around the paint and getting rewarded with rebounds," said Jason Pominville. "Thomas and Drew have been working good down low, creating those chances. Thomas has always been so good in front and it's nice to see him putting them away."
Pominville started at right wing with longtime linemate Jochen Hecht at center and Vanek at left wing. They played together in the third period Saturday at Long Island as coach Lindy Ruff flipped Hecht and Tim Connolly centering the top two lines.
"Playing with Thomas is a little bit new," said Pominville. "With Thomas and Timmy [Connolly] we were having a tough time creating things five-on-five, especially when it came to [offensive] zone time. We had a lot of rush opportunities but five-on-five we didn't generate much.
"When they put Jochen with us in Long Island, we got a goal, some zone time and still created rush opportunities."
Patrick Kaleta was cleared by doctors in the morning and returned to the Buffalo lineup after missing seven games with a broken hand. Luke Adam was sent back to Portland, leaving the Sabres one under the NHL roster limit of 23.
Adam has three goals, one assist and a minus-4 rating in 18 games over four stints in Buffalo. By going back to the minors, he'll be eligible to claim the spot he was voted to for the AHL All-Star Game on Jan. 31 in Hershey, Pa.
"I thought Luke gave us a lot of good periods," Ruff said. "He needs to go play, to go play 20 minutes a game. He needs to be involved in special teams in a big way which he has been down in Portland. We think a lot of him. It's just not good for him to be here when we're healthy and only play 8-9 minutes."