EL SEGUNDO, Calif. — The Buffalo Sabres have nine goals in four games and only three players have dented the scoresheet. Given their struggles on offense, the last place in the NHL they need to be Saturday night probably is Staples Center.
The Sabres have been shut out four straight times — all by 2-0 scores — in the Los Angeles' Kings cavernous home arena, where they play the second game of their Western road trip.
"We haven't had many bounce goals, battling goals," said center Ryan O'Reilly, still looking for his first goal of the season. "So it's an issue. Forwards need to get to the net more and 'D' need to get the puck there quicker. You look at me struggling now and I'm not going to break through on a breakaway. It's going to have to be greasy. I have to find a way to do something to contribute and lead the way in that sense of getting to the hard areas."
The Sabres spent the bulk of practice Friday in Toyota Sports Center trying to create some traffic in the offensive zone. San Jose goalie Martin Jones had a good look at virtually all 25 of the Sabres' shots on goal in Thursday's 3-2 loss in San Jose, and that's something Buffalo needs to improve against the Kings.
"You've got to get dirty, to the hard area," said coach Phil Housley. "Our 'D' has to do a better job getting pucks through and finding lanes if we're going to pay a price there. We're going to continue to work on that and it's a big area we need to improve on. ... It's a niche guys make livings on."
The Sabres haven't scored here in nearly 260 minutes of play, since Craig Rivet's third-period goal in a 4-3 shootout loss on Jan. 21, 2010. They're 0-5-1 in their last six games at Staples and haven't won here since Oct. 23, 2003.
O'Reilly laughed incredulously when told the recent history of the rivalry but he has bigger concerns, as one of several key players still looking for a goal. He's joined by the likes of Kyle Okposo, Sam Reinhart and Benoit Pouliot in the blanked brigade. Jason Pominville (4), Evander Kane (4) and Jack Eichel (1) have done all of Buffalo's scoring during its 0-3-1 start.
"The real challenge for us is we need a win to get some confidence," said O'Reilly. "The more devastating stat really is we're behind already and we have to get a win. Get greasy goals, get a bounce, things loosen up and they happen all over the ice. That's how we have to look at it."
O'Reilly and Okposo had their most engaged games of the season Thursday playing on a newly constructed line with Kane. That trio will certainly be together again Saturday.
"It was one of our better games defensively and away from the puck," O'Reilly said. "I felt I finally was a part of the game defensively. I was tougher to play against and that's what they've talked about and what they expect. It's a good starting point. It's on me now to do more offensively. We were more sound, had the puck more and now it's time to generate some offense."
O'Reilly said it's difficult to still be looking for that elusive first goal of the season. Players can go without a goal for four games all the time in the middle of a season. But it's burdensome at the beginning.
"We're still a little tight," he said. "We saw simple passes blowing up on guys at times. If we go battle by battle each time and be competitive that way, it will come. It's different without a goal if you're winning. You're still feeling good and things are light. When you're losing, you feel like you have to step up."
O'Reilly sounded an ominous tone about how the Sabres' secondary scoring must pick up and not leave Eichel, Kane and Pominville to do all the scoring.
"'Eichs, Kaner and Poms are are creating offense and putting the puck in the net," O'Reilly said. "It's myself that's not. There's games they will struggle and I'm a guy that has to step up and get something going too."
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Okposo did not practice Friday after sitting out Thursday's morning skate due to the flu.
"We just needed to give him a day off," Housley said. "I thought he had a good game and grinded it out. Just trying to get him rested and get his energy back."
All other players were on the ice as scheduled and the lines remained the same as they were in San Jose, except for healthy scratch Matt Moulson in Okposo's place.