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Kane's return imminent for bedraggled Sabres' offense

When you peruse the NHL offensive statistics, it's an ugly story for the Buffalo Sabres. But in the interest of fairness and democracy -- and what better day to provide that? -- there is some good news to provide on the horizon for the bedraggled corps of Buffalo forwards.

Winger Evander Kane's return appears imminent, coach Dan Bylsma said Tuesday. Kane, out since cracking four ribs during a collision with the end boards during the season opener Oct. 13 against Montreal, is scheduled to take the morning skate prior to Wednesday's game against Ottawa in KeyBank Center.

The Sabres then have a home-and-home series with New Jersey, here Friday and Saturday in Prudential Center, before playing Tuesday in St. Louis. It seems likely Kane will return in one of those three games. Kane had 20 goals for the Sabres last year and is averaging 22 over his last four full seasons in the NHL.

"Evander has been putting in a lot of work and he's really progressed quite well," Bylsma said during his weekly appearance on WGR Radio. "He's had four days now of some physical contact, some heavy contact. He skated here at home real hard and it's a good possibility to see him here in the short future."

The Sabres certainly need the return of Kane and Jack Eichel to help their stumbling offense. But they're going to have to wait quite a bit longer for Eichel, who still is not close to skating after suffering his high ankle sprain the day before the opener.

"Hopefully we see him keep progressing. He's done real well," Bylsma said of Eichel, who is limited to heavy bike and cardio work. "We're not looking at him in the near future right now. We're still talking weeks, not immediately here."

The Sabres were off Tuesday and have plenty to ponder after Monday's 4-0 loss in Boston. The name of the game is putting the puck in the net and they simply haven't been able to do it nearly enough.


GOALS PER GAME
(Through Tuesday's games)

OVERALL
Rank  Team           GP GF  Avg.
1.    NY Rangers      14  58  4.14
26. New Jersey       12  28  2.33
27. San Jose            13  30  2.31
28. Buffalo               12 25  2.08
29. Colorado            12 24  2.00
30. Vancouver         14 26  1.86

HOME
Rank Team            GP GF Avg.
1.   NY Rangers        10  45  4.50
26. San Jose              6   13   2.16
27. Boston                 5   10   2.00
28. Colorado             5   10   2.00
29. Vancouver          7    11   1.57
30. Buffalo                4     5   1.25

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Buffalo has just 25 goals in 12 games, 29th in the 30-team NHL in total goals and 28th in per-game average (2.08). And the Sabres' numbers are skewed upward by their 6-2 win Oct. 16 in Edmonton, which is proving an aberration. Take that game away and Buffalo's per-game scoring average drops to a ghastly 1.72.

Monday's loss was the seventh time in 12 games the Sabres have been held to two goals or less, and the drought is deepening as the Sabres have just five goals in the last four games. Only because of stellar work from goaltender Robin Lehner is Buffalo 2-2 in that stretch.

The Sabres have just 17 even-strength goals in 12 games (29th in the league). Meanwhile, the power play scored eight times in the first seven games but has gone 0 for 8 in the last five.

Things are particularly acute at home heading into Wednesday's game. In going 1-3 downtown, the Sabres have just five goals. It's no surprise that total is last in the league. Three of those five are on the power play, leaving fans to hear "Let Me Clear My Throat" just twice thus for an even-strength tally.

Overall, Kyle Okposo leads the Sabres with five goals while Ryan O'Reilly and Matt Moulson have four apiece and captain Brian Gionta has three. No one else has more than two. O'Reilly and Gionta both scored twice in Edmonton; in the 10 games since, O'Reilly has two goals and Gionta only one.

"Scoring goals has been an issue for us as of late and again tonight," O'Reilly said after the Boston defeat. "We need to get on the board early. It changes the momentum, gives us some energy. It's got to start with me. I've been struggling these last few games and have to find a way to put the puck in the net.

"I’ve got to be one of the key guys that creates. When I’m not putting it in and putting it in early, it’s tough for us to get going. It’s tough for myself to open up not having that confidence. It’s just frustrating right now."

O'Reilly is notoriously hard on himself but he has plenty of company in Struggle City. Gionta was stymied by Tuukka Rask on a breakaway during the second period, failing to put a dent in Boston's lead during a period where the Bruins tallied three goals to take over the game.

"I put that on myself," Gionta said. "Short-handed breakaway there at 2-0, it could be a 2-1 game and change the momentum and the outcome."

There's plenty of other droughts going on across the Buffalo roster. Derek Grant has no goals in 12 games. Tyler Ennis and Zemgus Girgensons have just one each and that's nothing new for Girgensons, a former first-round pick who has just 12 goals in his last 100 games dating to the 2014-15 season. Marcus Foligno has just two goals while Moulson had four goals in the first five games but has not tallied in seven straight.

In addition, the Sabres remain the only team in the NHL without a single goal from a defenseman.

"You talk about secondary offense from your third and fourth lines, it’s no different than your defensemen," Jake McCabe said in Boston. "We can’t rely on just our top guys to get goals for us. We need to start contributing more from the back end, for sure."

"It's something you constantly have to work on and change," O'Reilly said. "We have to keep a beginner's mind and find a way to grow. Every night is going to be different. Right now, we're too inconsistent."

email: mharrington@buffnews.com

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