FARMERS BRANCH, Texas – The Sabres’ defensemen have found a pretty cool hangout spot lately.
The score sheet.
After being one of the more unproductive units in the NHL for most of the season, Buffalo’s blue-liners have started racking up points. They have combined for two goals, seven assists and nine points during the last three games, and it’s no coincidence the Sabres have won all three.
“We’ve had that almost snake-bit feeling from the back end for a long time this season,” defenseman Cody Franson said Wednesday. “We’ve put good shots in, and we’d hit our own guy coming through the lane. We’d block our own shots or we’d tip pucks and they’d hit crossbars. Ones that were going in would get tipped wide.
“The dots weren’t lining up, and the last few games they’ve lined up for us, which has been nice.”
As the Sabres look for a fourth straight win Thursday in Dallas, they’re getting a well-rounded performance from the defense. There have been highlight-reel goals like Zach Bogosian’s overtime winner in Montreal. There have been smart plays like Franson purposely hitting the right pad so Jack Eichel could get a rebound on the left side.
There have even been easy assists, like Taylor Fedun’s helper when he was simply the last player to touch the puck before Eichel went coast-to-coast and beat Nashville in overtime Tuesday.
“We’ve had a number of those assists just be movement with the puck and good execution with the puck, not necessarily offensive plays,” Sabres coach Dan Bylsma said in a practice facility north of Dallas. “We had some good puck movement. We’ve started to move the puck north and quick a lot better for our forwards, and that’s resulted in us getting more opportunities to score and more goals.”
Fedun has helped the Sabres’ transition game in the absence of Jake McCabe. Franson has taken advantage of minutes vacated by injured Josh Gorges. Bogosian has played better.
“Anytime your blue line can help chip in offensively, it makes a big difference in your team game,” said Franson, who has one goal and four points in three games. “You get the chance to play big minutes more consistently, you start to feel better about your game and confident in what you’re doing. I’ve felt pretty confident for a while now.
“Luckily, it’s starting to get those bounces, and guys are burying those rebounds that are there.”
Actually, there wasn’t much luck involved in the second of Franson’s two assists Tuesday. During a conversation on the bench, Franson told Eichel he would create a rebound for him. It worked.
“I knew he was planted off to the side and we had a good screen, so I just tried to throw it off that right pad so it would go to his area,” Franson said. “Probably 90 percent of the time I’m shooting, I’m not trying to score from up there. I’m just trying to put the puck in an area where our guy in front can get a tip on it, or if we’ve got traffic coming from the left, I’m going to try and put it off his right pad so it kicks out to our traffic.
“Now I’ve had a couple that went to the right spot, and we were able to bury them.”
Even with the nine-point surge during the past three games, the Sabres’ blue-line numbers are pedestrian. The defensemen have combined for seven goals and 61 assists in 47 games. Rasmus Ristolainen has a big chunk of that with three goals and 25 assists.
“All year long we would have liked to be contributing a little bit more offensively, but it’s nice,” said Fedun, who noted four of the seven goals by defensemen have been game-winners. “The D haven’t scored many goals, but they sure they have been big ones.”
Bogosian’s winner Saturday allowed the Sabres to go for three straight. Assists by Franson, Bogosian and Fedun on Tuesday helped secure a 5-4 win in Nashville. If the defensemen can continue their run against the Stars, the Sabres might set a season high with a four-game winning streak.
“When you win games, everything is more fun,” Fedun said. “The energy in the locker room, the energy in practice, the energy of games, it’s just one of those things that goes hand-in-hand with winning. Hopefully, we can have a snowball effect here and just keep rolling.”