The disappointment and frustration of the two-man advantage lingers with Dan Bylsma.
The coach can’t talk about the Buffalo Sabres power play without reliving the opportunities wasted in St. Louis and Dallas. Something surfaced when the Sabres failed to convert.
It may be frustration. It may be an erosion of confidence. But the once strong power play, which still ranks in the top 10 in the National Hockey League, has gone 0 for 10 in the last three games.
“I have a tough time thinking about this without thinking about the 5 on 3, and it’s almost still affecting us, not scoring on those 5 on 3s in St. Louis and in Dallas,” Bylsma said Tuesday afternoon as the Sabres prepared to host the Nashville Predators at 7 Wednesday night in First Niagara Center.
Twice during the 3-2 shootout loss at St. Louis on Nov. 19 the Sabres had a two-man advantage. Their second time with the 5 on 3 they generated six shots on goal, but none found the back of the net.
And that started a slow but slippery slide for the power play units.
The team went 0 for 3 in Dallas with another 5-on-3 opportunity.
In Monday’s home loss to the Blues, the Sabre didn’t technically have a two-man advantage, but with the goalie pulled for the final minute skated a 6-on-4 power play and again failed to score, going 0 for 3 for the game.
“Obviously we’ve talked about it a lot and it’s been a problem,” said Ryan O’Reilly, who leads the team with four power-play goals and eight power-play points. “I think we’ve had three games in a row where we’ve had a 5 on 3 and didn’t capitalize. I think it really hurt our confidence. That’s something we expected to do, and if we bury in one of those, it changes the whole dynamic of the game.
“I think we’re a little frustrated. We’ve got to get back to the things we were doing well previous to that.”
Previously, the Sabres had the third-best power play in the NHL, scoring 14 goals in 58 opportunities to click at 24.1 percent.
“Maybe because we play very well so we try to make too cute plays there and pass the puck to the net,” Rasmus Ristolainen said. “We’ve got to keep it simple like we did earlier.
“It’s on us. We’ve got to shoot more. We’ve got pass better. We’ve got have better passes so we can shoot one-timers right away and just get pucks to the net. That’s how we scored and that’s how we had success earlier this year.”
Ristolainen and Cody Franson both have hard, heavy shots from the blue line, with Ristolainen notching eight of his 12 points on the power play this year.
But the since being snake-bitten on those 5 on 3s, the Sabres haven’t been shooting the puck as much with the man advantage.
“Our shot numbers are down … even our attempts are down and it’s something we focused on,” Bylsma said.
And O’Reilly echoed the sentiment – shoot more.
“I think it’s supporting each other but being ready to shoot all the time,” O’Reilly said. “We have to get pucks to the net and we have to play quick. Even though we have the extra man we still have to have that work ethic and outwork the penalty killers.
“When we can, especially early in a power play,” we need to “throw pucks to the net. It makes it tough on the killers. They don’t know what to expect.
“They’re working hard to get back into position and from there, that’s when the plays will start to open up and we can make them. I think we have to start right away with that mindset, ‘OK let’s make a quick play, get a shot and see where we’re at.’”