SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. – The team with the worst offense in the NHL loses its top scorer … and actually gets better? Weird, but true.
The Sabres will go into Monday’s showdown against Arizona with a rare dose of offensive confidence. Buffalo outshot Colorado, 38-22, Saturday night to set season highs in shots and shot differential. They tested Avalanche goaltender Semyon Varlamov with 18 shots during the third period while trying to rally from a 4-0 deficit.
“We had a video session to talk about some of the things we did,” Sabres coach Ted Nolan said Sunday. “That was one of the lowest chances” against “games we’ve played all season long and one of the first times we outshot a team by that large of a margin. Outside of that first little bit where we made a couple costly mistakes, I thought it was a pretty good effort.”
The Sabres will likely have to duplicate it without Ennis. He skated for the first time since suffering an injury to his left shoulder Thursday, but he didn’t attempt any shots or battle drills.
“We’ll make sure he’s 100 percent before we even consider putting him back in,” Nolan said in Gila River Arena in Glendale.
Ennis was just happy to be on the ice while the majority of his teammates stayed off it to enjoy the weather.
“We’ll see what tomorrow brings, but I just wanted to get out there, feel the ice, skate around and work on some skills,” said Ennis, who lightheartedly detailed the play that caused the injury. “I just went to go hit this bigger guy, and it wasn’t a good idea. He saw me coming. Maybe I’ll have to stay away from the hitting for a little bit.
“Sometimes you get a little mad and I want to hit, then I realize that I’m not built for that.”
The absence of Ennis forced Nolan to shuffle his lines.
The combinations worked as three of the four lines - Matt Moulson-Johan Larsson-Brian Gionta, Marcus Foligno-Mikhail Grigorenko-Zac Dalpe and Matt Ellis-Tim Schaller-Cody Hodgson - totaled at least eight shots each.
“All lines were clicking and creating offense,” Hodgson said. “It was fun to be a part of.”
Hodgson led the Sabres with six shots despite playing on the fourth line.
“Schaller and Ellis are a little bit more defensively oriented guys, and Cody could just kind of concentrate on offense, which he did,” Nolan said. “I thought that was one of his better offensive attacks all season.”
Hodgson skated on the third line with Nicolas Deslauriers and Phil Varone during the morning skate but gave way to Patrick Kaleta for the game. He enjoyed the linemates.
“I love playing with Ellis,” Hodgson said. “He works so hard, creates so many loose pucks out there. He’s smart and plays on the right side of the puck, backchecks harder than anyone I’ve played with. He’s always in the right position and it makes the game easy to play.
“It’s definitely encouraging. It obviously would have been nice to score a couple of them.”
The only goals came from Sabres defensemen. Andrej Meszaros scored twice, while Rasmus Ristolainen found the net for the second straight game.
Colorado scored four times in the opening 27 minutes to put the Sabres in the insurmountable hole.
“Nobody threw in the towel after the second,” Meszaros said. “We picked ourselves up and we battled hard. Unfortunately, it wasn’t enough.”
The Sabres have outshot their opponent in just seven of their 75 games.
Despite the three goals in the final 20 minutes, they fell to 2-34-2 when trailing after two periods.
“It was a good learning point for us,” Deslauriers said. “Usually in the third we get a little beat up, and I think we took advantage of the way we were playing. We were playing pretty good.”