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Beleaguered Sabres won't find safety in numbers

Let's get one thing out of the way: The Sabres weren't supposed to win in Columbus. They were on the road, playing the second game of a back-to-back against a rested team that had the fourth-best record in the NHL last season.

Still, a 5-1 beatdown is a 5-1 beatdown.

More than anything, Wednesday's disappointment in Columbus proved once again the Sabres simply don't know how to string wins together. Their modest two-game streak came to a crashing halt, continuing a trend.

During their six-year playoff drought, the Sabres have enjoyed just three winning streaks longer than three games. They had a five-game run late in 2011-12 and a four-game streak earlier that season. The only other four-game winning streak was in December 2014.

That squad proceeded to go 1-17-1 in its next 19 games.

Time and time again, the Sabres have taken prosperity and chucked it into Lake Erie. It's no wonder they haven't had more wins than losses since Jan. 24, 2013, when they dropped to 2-1 just three games into the lockout-shortened season.

Buffalo has started 3-6-2 this year, so it will take a six-game winning streak to give it more wins than losses. The next game is Saturday afternoon when San Jose visits KeyBank Center.

Until then, here are numbers of note for the Sabres heading into Thursday's NHL schedule:

* Minus-14 – The Sabres' goal differential, which ranks 29th in the 31-team league.

Arizona is minus-18 and Montreal is minus-16.

* Minus-7 – The plus/minus rating of Ryan O'Reilly, Sam Reinhart and Kyle Okposo.

The trio is tied for 679th out of 688 skaters. Mats Zuccarello of the New York Rangers is last at minus-11.

* Zero, Part I – The number of goals scored by Buffalo defensemen.

Improvement along the revamped blue line was the No. 1 reason for optimism this offseason. The nine defensemen have 101 shots, and not one has found the net.

The defensemen have 12 assists, an average of 1.09 per game. That's below last year's output of 1.27.

* Zero, Part II – The number of goals for forwards Matt Moulson, Jordan Nolan, Jacob Josefson and Okposo.

Okposo is supposed to score. The previous four seasons, he's done so early and often.

Okposo scored in his first game last year and had four through nine games (the number he's skated in so far this season). In 2014-15, he scored in his third game and had three goals through nine. In 2013-14 and 2015-16, he scored in his fourth game and also had three goals through nine.

His worst start was 2011-12. It took him 16 games to score his first goal, and he finished with just five in 38 for the New York Islanders. He wasn't a cornerstone then, but he is now.

Moulson has seven shots in eight games and is minus-6 while skating 10:32 per night. He's under contract through next season at $5 million per year.

Matt Moulson's actual salary this season is $5 million, and it drops to $3 million next season. His cap hit will remain $5 million. (Robert Kirkham/Buffalo News)

* .364 – The Sabres' points percentage, which ranks 27th.

Arizona is the NHL's worst team at .056 with an 0-8-1 record, followed by Montreal (.278), the New York Rangers (.300), Edmonton (.313) and Buffalo.

* .879 – Save percentage of Chad Johnson, which ranks 52nd out of 64 goaltenders.

Antti Niemi, waived by Pittsburgh and claimed by Florida, is last with a .797 save percentage. The Sabres' Robin Lehner is tied for 31st at .912.

* Two – The Sabres' longest (and only) winning streak.

The expansion Vegas Golden Knights have streaks of three and four games.

* 2.45 – Buffalo's goals per game, which ranks 26th.

Only Edmonton (1.88), Montreal (1.89), Arizona (2.33), Calgary (2.40) and Carolina (2.43) have bigger offensive problems. The Sabres have scored two goals or fewer in seven of their 11 games.

* 3.64 – Buffalo's goals allowed per game, which ranks 25th.

Only Arizona (4.33), Pittsburgh (4.00), Montreal (3.78), Florida (3.75), Boston and Winnipeg (3.71 each) have bigger defensive problems. The Sabres have given up four goals or more in seven of their 11 games.

* Six, Part I – Goals by Evander Kane.

The pending unrestricted free agent is making is his case for a big contract. He is tied for seventh in the NHL in goals.

* Six, Part II – Short-handed goals allowed.

The NHL record is 22. Buffalo has 71 games remaining and is on pace for 45.

* Seven – Assists by Jack Eichel.

The center is tied for 15th in the NHL and is on pace for 52 helpers. Only 12 Sabres have ever reached 50, and it hasn't been accomplished since Jason Pominville had 53 in 2007-08.

* 11 – The team-high point total shared by Eichel, Kane and Pominville, putting them in a tie for 12th in the NHL.

They are at a point-per-game pace. Since 1996, the only Sabres to reach 82 points were Daniel Briere (95) and Thomas Vanek (84). They did it in 2006-07.

* 13.5 – The Sabres' power-play success rate, which ranks 27th.

Buffalo led the NHL last season at 24.5 percent. This season, it is ahead of only Columbus (12.5 percent), Vancouver (10 percent), Anaheim and the New York Islanders (7.1 percent each).

* 19 – The number of goals allowed during second periods, most in the NHL.

The middle period is again torturous for the Sabres. They allowed 86 goals during second periods last year, the third-highest total in the league behind Winnipeg (94) and Arizona (87).

Johan Larsson and the Sabres need to come out better following the first intermission. (Robert Kirkham/Buffalo News)

* 51 – Man games lost to injury.

Zach Bogosian leads the list in terms of significance. The Sabres' brass named him an alternate captain, but he has missed all 11 games.

Since skating in 81 of 82 games for Atlanta in 2009-10, Bogosian has dressed in 73.6 percent of his team's games. He's appeared in 406 of 551, missing 145.

* 81.1 – The Sabres' penalty-kill success rate, which ranks 15th.

Buffalo has improved over last season. It finished 25th at 77.6 percent.

* 2023 – The last possible year for discussion of The Tank.

Because of the unsightly start and lack of progress, the debate over the Sabres' strategy to lose in order to gain high draft picks has flared again. It's too early to draw conclusions. We refer to a Buffalo News study in March 2015.

Since 1979, when the NHL expanded to 21 teams, 10 non-expansion organizations have drafted in the top two in consecutive years. Five reached the Stanley Cup finals within eight years (Minnesota, Quebec/Colorado, Pittsburgh in the 1980s and 2000s, and Tampa Bay). Three won the Cup, with the North Stars losing to the Penguins.

Two of the high-drafting teams (Winnipeg in 1980-81, San Jose in ’96-97) failed to reach the final. The three others – Edmonton (2010 to 2012), Florida (2013-14) and Buffalo (2014-15) – are still waiting to see if back-to-back early picks equate to a Cup appearance.

Very little will happen for the Sabres until they learn to put together a winning streak.

Missed breakaway leads to more breakdowns for the Sabres

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