Last season was the worst production of Matt Moulson's professional career. The forward scored just eight goals in 81 games and connected on the power play, what had been his specialty, only twice.
His confidence was low. He needed more goals. But to get more goals he had to find ways to create confidence without that momentary adrenaline that comes from the flash of the red light and the goal horn. So he went to work over the summer, specifically working on his skating.
And 19 games into the new season, Moulson is back in his groove.
He has seven goals in those 19 games, one fewer than all of last season. His six power-play tallies have him tied for most in the NHL with Montreal's Shea Weber.
"I think just developing that confidence in myself again and working to get that back," Moulson said of the difference between last season and this season. He took an optional morning skate in KeyBank Center Tuesday afternoon as the Sabres prepared to host the Detroit Red Wings on Wednesday. "I’m getting some opportunities this year to play in some good offensive situations. I just have to convert into goals.
"I think over the summer I wanted to put in the work to get the confidence and not so much just rely on goals to get confidence. Obviously that helps anyone. I’d be lying if I didn’t say that. I think just knowing you put in the work and working on my game. Getting confidence from that, creating your own confidence without necessarily scoring goals but knowing that you feel good physical and mentally as well."
Sabres coach Dan Bylsma has noticed the difference in Moulson's game, particularly in his skating.
"There’s a lot of situations that he’s in right now that he was in last year and I think he’s just playing much stronger and much better in those situations," Bylsma said. "There’s a difference to the way he practices and performs in practice, he’s skating better. I think he’s most definitely skating better. It’s allowing him to be good in the areas where he’s been good at it. He has six power play goals and minus the rush play in Edmonton they’ve all been where Matt Moulson is good and can be good for us and needs to be good for us."
On Monday, he scored Buffalo's third power play goal in typical Moulson fashion. Hanging out in the high slot, he followed the play, found a seam in the defense, took a strong stride toward the net and cashed in a pass from Kyle Okposo.
It was Moulson's 59th career power play goal.
"Obviously he’s a really smart player and good on the power play. He’s been on the power play his whole career,"said Okposo who is part of the Sabres first power-play unit with Moulson. "I think he’s really worked on his game. He worked on it this summer and worked on his skating a lot and you can definitely see the improvements – just little plays and things he’s able to do out there. Obviously putting the puck in the net is a big part of his game and he’s doing that right now."
Sam Reinhart noted Moulson "puts himself in a spot where he’s going to get the puck and he’s going to have a good opportunity to score and he has been. He’s just so smart and we’ve been able to find him."
The top power-play unit, which lately has included Rasmus Ristolainen and Taylor Fedun along with Moulson, Okposo and Reinhart, has been a bright spot for the Sabres, now winners in their last two games.
On Tuesday, the Sabres had the seventh-best power play in the NHL, clicking at 22.2 percent. Their power play at home ranks fifth with a 25 percent success rate (eight goals in 32 attempts).
"I feel like we’ve just got a good understanding," Okposo said of his power play unit. "When things aren’t going well we’re able to adjust. We talk it out and communication is huge on that. I think between power plays we’re always looking to get better and looking to see what was there, what wasn’t there and I think that’s just been good for our success."
That mysterious "sixth sense" that often happens on a power play really just comes down to good, old-fashioned communication.
"The penalty kill is going to make adjustments all the time from what you’re doing," Moulson said. "You have to be pro-active in talking about things and making sure you’re talking out situations because they happen so quickly. Having that sixth sense of knowing where that guy is going to be, a lot of that comes from talking and telling the guy where you’re going to be. Things can happen quick out there and you can catch them out of position and get chances."