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Sabres search for scoring touch

Dan Bylsma looks around the Sabres’ dressing room and sees guys with a history of scoring. Six players have recorded 20-goal seasons – Ryan O’Reilly, Evander Kane, Matt Moulson, Tyler Ennis, Brian Gionta and David Legwand – and Zemgus Girgensons was on his way to reaching that milestone last year before suffering an injury.

Of those seven guys, only O’Reilly and Kane are on pace to score 20. In fact, they’re the only ones on pace to even reach 10.

“I am surprised that we don’t have more goals,” Bylsma said Friday. “Not by one particular person specifically, but I am surprised. We’ve created and done things that you need to do to score goals, and we haven’t always gotten them throughout the year.”

The Sabres, who host Detroit in a 1 p.m. matinee Saturday, have deserved a better fate. According to a much-praised advance stat called PDO, which adds on-ice save percentage to on-ice shooting percentage, the Sabres rank 28th in the NHL at 98.37. The mean is 100, and PDO history shows the Sabres are due to start scoring and head toward the mean.

The question is when.

“We’ve got to find ways to get those guys hot, get guys scoring up and down the lineup,” Gionta said in First Niagara Center. “That’s part of the reason why we’re not coming out on top of those one-goal games.”

Indeed, the Sabres’ winning percentage in one-goal games is a paltry .368. The 7-8-4 record ranks 27th in the NHL.

In a league where one goal makes a difference, the Sabres are so far lacking in difference makers. Gionta is on pace for nine goals. Moulson and the injured Ennis are on pace for eight. Girgensons is on pace for just six.

The team shooting percentage of 7.7 percent is identical to last year’s 30th-place club.

“I would love to produce more,” Gionta said. “I feel the overall game is there. It’s just not scoring, not finishing.

“I’ve had great chances, good looks. I’ve just got to find ways to get it in.”

The Sabres know their power play is the best chance to kick-start the scoring, which is why the team spent nearly all of Friday’s practice doing special-teams work. They are 1 for 25 in the last eight games, finally ending their drought with the last power play of Thursday’s 2-1 loss to the New York Islanders.

“When we don’t score on the power play, that’s the small difference,” defenseman Rasmus Ristolainen said. “We had a lot of shots and scoring chances, but we only scored one goal. I guess it’s going better now. Earlier, we didn’t shoot and we passed up a lot of opportunities. That’s a big reason why we didn’t score.”

The Sabres took 15 shots on the power play Thursday. They want to keep the flow, hence Friday’s extensive power-play workout.

“We got a lot of momentum off it,” Gionta said. “We were moving the puck well. We had a lot of good chances, good looks. Obviously, we scored a goal, but it was more about the chances we got.

“We wanted to continue to stay with that today and make sure that we’re sticking with those same principles.”

For the first time in a while, people talked about the power play with a smile. They’ll smile more if it can help the team end a three-game losing streak that has dropped Buffalo’s record to 15-19-4.

“We supported each other,” Gionta said. “We made the play that was there. We didn’t try to force something that we wanted or thought would be there. We took what they gave us and got pucks to the net.”

Added Bylsma: “We had a shooter’s mentality. It was evident. We fired. We had pucks going to the net at a high volume, and that’s where we’ve had our success from.”