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Sabres’ Moulson looking to escape dark side and emerge from slump

Matt Moulson, trudging through the worst slump of his career, isn’t looking for a hat trick. He’s not looking for a pretty goal. Heck, he’s not even looking for a goal.

Moulson is just looking for ... something.

“For me it’s just trying to find some confidence whether it’s making a play or getting a chance and trying to feed off that,” the Sabres forward said Sunday. “It’s not a light switch thing where it just turns on.”

Moulson has been playing in the dark for a long time. The winger heads into Monday’s game in Detroit without a goal since Nov. 1. The 18-game slump is the longest of his career. With four goals in 30 games, Moulson is on pace for a career-low 10.

“Obviously, I want to try and get some goals here and help this team out,” he said.

Moulson was at least visible Saturday night during a 2-1 overtime victory against Los Angeles. Playing alongside left wing Evander Kane and center Jack Eichel for the first time, Moulson had three shots within 15 feet during the first period.

However, those were his only chances in 16:10 of ice time, the most he’s received in 10 games.

“With the speed of Evander and Jack – and I thought Jack was skating well again – I thought Matt was really able to get to the offensive zone and get to the house area where he can be good,” coach Dan Bylsma said. “It didn’t translate to goals for the line, but I thought it meshed pretty well together, and we’re going to see it again in Detroit.”

Bylsma has directed Moulson to get near the net for rebounds and deflections. The winger doesn’t have the speed to join rushes with Eichel and Kane, so he needs to score the crease-front goals.

“I think I can do a better job of getting to the net,” Moulson said after practice in HarborCenter. “Yesterday was personally one of my better ones of getting to the net. Those two guys are great at getting pucks to the net, so I’ve just got to get there for them.”

Two things make Moulson’s slump particularly troubling for the Sabres:

1. He’s shown few signs of getting out of it.

Moulson has just 26 shots during the 18 games. He’s taken 51 shots so far, putting him on pace for a career-low 139. The 32-year-old used to hit that number in a little more than half a season.

From 2009 to 2012, when he was averaging 32 goals a year for the New York Islanders, Moulson took between 208 and 237 shots per season. During the lockout-shortened season of 2013, the winger had 154 shots in 47 games.

2. The crashes are becoming increasingly common.

The three worst slumps of Moulson’s career have come since he signed a five-year, $25 million deal with Buffalo before last season. He had droughts of 16 and 14 games last year, and he’s blown past those with this skid.

If the slide is weighing on Moulson, his housemate doesn’t see it.

“I think he’s all right,” Eichel said. “He’s played in the league awhile. He knows how to be patient. He knows it’ll come. We’ve just got to keep doing the right things and sooner or later we’re going to catch some breaks.

“He wants to get around the net. Obviously, Kaner likes to shoot it. I like to move it and shoot it as well. I think it’s going to be important for us to contribute against Detroit.”

During the Sabres’ last trip to Detroit, Moulson sat on the bench for most of the second half. Kane and Eichel, meanwhile, combined for 14 shot attempts (12 by Kane). If the duo repeats its showing, Moulson just might find ... something.

“They’re obviously two players that can create a lot out of nothing,” Moulson said. “They both get the puck to the net and are great skaters. It makes my job easy. Just get to the net and try to get dirty ones.

“You have to keep working. It’s amazing what one off of your rear end or foot will do for your confidence. It’s just getting to the net, making sure I’m there and feeding off those two guys.”

email: jvogl@buffnews.com

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