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Power play clicking for Sabres; Seven goals in five games revives extra-man attack

At least lately, there's been no thought of the Buffalo Sabres wanting to roll out the football analogy and decline the penalty.

After a brutal three-week stretch, the Sabres' power play is once again on a roll. The Sabres used an opening-minute goal on the man advantage to key Monday's win over Washington and head into tonight's trip to New Jersey with seven power-play goals in the last five games.

Quicker puck movement from the units has been a key as Buffalo has converted 7 of 23 chances -- after going just 2 for 31 in the previous nine games.

"Getting the puck moving is important and getting pucks on net has been a big part of it," said defenseman Jordan Leopold. "Maybe some of them haven't been real pretty but we'll take the goals any way we can get them."

"When we're standing still and we're not really moving around, we're not creating much," said Jason Pominville, who scored at the 51-second mark Monday. "The good power plays in the league are moving, supporting each other well. When we do that, we have the personnel to score."

With players like Pominville, Thomas Vanek, Derek Roy, Drew Stafford and Christian Ehrhoff, the Sabres should have a dynamic power play even in the face of injuries to players like Tyler Myers and Brad Boyes.

But the unit started to stagnate after Myers left with a broken wrist Nov. 19 and Boyes was lost with a high ankle sprain four days later.

Ehrhoff, a power-play specialist from his days in Vancouver, has a booming shot from the point but has just three goals all season (one came Monday) and only one on the power play.

Opponents have keyed on Ehrhoff and made it difficult to get shots on the net. He's tried to move around more at the point and was even going down low into the faceoff circle for one-timers Monday.

"We've been taking advantage of what opponents give us and we've been moving the puck pretty good right now, moving it fast," Ehrhoff said. "I'm just trying to find open seams, move my feet a little bit."

"On some situations on the power play, maybe he's hung on a little too long looking for something better," said coach Lindy Ruff. "He's got a great shot. Teams key on it and try to stay on his lane. Sometimes he has to move it around that person and open other people up."

The power play revival comes at a good time as the Devils entered Tuesday's play as the NHL's runaway leaders in penalty killing at 93 percent. They are at 96.5 percent at home, with just two power-play goals allowed in 57 chances.

While the Sabres are 11th overall on the power play at 18.9 percent, they're just 24th on the road at 14.3. They have only six power-play goals on the road, just one off St. Louis' NHL-low total of five.

The Devils have primo penalty killers in the defense tandem of Bryce Salvador and former Ottawa stalwart Anton Volchenkov, and get the job done up front with the likes of Zach Parise, Travis Zajac, former Sabre Dainius Zubrus and Ilya Kovalchuk.

"A lot of power plays are built on the entries [into the offensive zone]," Ruff said. "Our entry got us the first goal [Monday] and after that it's retrievals. If you get enough pucks back, you'll get those second opportunities, which we did a better job.

"Quick puck movement is one thing. But every power play every season, you get hot stretches and you get stretches where it's running a little cold. Usually when it's running cold, it comes down to puck movement."

Boyes made an immediate impact in his return, holding the puck down low and then cutting to the net to make a great pass into the slot for Brayden McNabb. The rookie capped a power play with his first NHL goal for the Sabres' fourth of Monday's first period.

"When I got it the [defenseman] was cheating to the outside a bit and I was able to walk to the middle," Boyes said. "I saw him there on his forehand and I was on my backhand. I gave it to him and I was just yelling at him to shoot it. He did and luckily it went on.

"It's so tough to score 5-on-5 and get chances. The power play is so important. We've had times and spurts where it's gone the other way. The last few games we've been getting them and they're big."

email: mharrington@buffnews.com

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