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Sabres' Okposo finally enjoys net result

DALLAS – Kyle Okposo tried to make it short and sweet.

"Yes," he said with a relieved grin. "Simple answer. Yeah, a big weight off my shoulders."

But this deserved more. He's one of the Sabres' leaders, a guy with a history of performing. So when it took him 11 games to score his first goal of the season, a little deeper meaning was needed.

"It's a big goal for me," the right winger admitted. "I've been pressing. I felt like the last five games have been better for me, but still without that goal, it's always tough. You're looking to get those zeros off the board.

"Hopefully, the floodgates open, but that was a big one for me."

The early season struggles for Buffalo and Okposo weighed on the alternate captain. After getting last season cut short because of a concussion-related hospitalization, the 29-year-old wanted to show he was back.

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Then game after game passed with little or no production. He once went 16 games without scoring a goal, but that was seven years ago. Those days were supposed to be long gone.

Now he's looking to build off a modest streak. After scoring during Thursday's 5-4 victory over Arizona, Okposo has points in two straight games. He's still carrying just one goal and three assists, but the zero is gone as the Sabres head into Saturday's game in Dallas.

"It's tough when you go that long without a goal," Sabres coach Phil Housley said. "You want to contribute offensively. He's a big part of our team, and it was great to see him score, especially at that point in the first period. It was a huge, huge goal for us."

Okposo's goal came with 0.9 seconds left in the first period. It tied the game, 1-1, and propelled the Sabres to a 5-1 lead. They barely held on after allowing three goals in the final 7:49.

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"Maybe we just thought the game was over before it was over," left wing Benoit Pouliot said. "But in the end, it was good. We won."

They won in no small part because of the line of Okposo, Pouliot and Ryan O'Reilly. The trio combined for three goals and five assists. Pouliot scored twice and added an assist. O'Reilly had three helpers.

"We were connecting," Pouliot said. "We were supporting each other a lot."

It's becoming a trend. All four of Pouliot's goals have come in the past five games. O'Reilly has four goals and 10 points in the last eight.

"They've sort of been carrying our team," Housley said. "Obviously, you can see it in their points and their contribution, but I thought Factor's line was really solid. We needed some other scoring from other lines, and they came up big for us."

Goals by Okposo, Pouliot and Seth Griffith, who scored on a breakaway, helped take pressure off the top line of Jack Eichel, Evander Kane and Jason Pominville. Kane scored a short-handed goal, and the scoring from elsewhere allowed the Sabres to tie their season high with five goals.

"Everybody's going to have to contribute if we want to be successful," Griffith said. "We can't rely on those guys every night."

Lack of secondary scoring has been a big problem for Buffalo, which ranks at 25th in the NHL at 2.62 goals per game.

Kane has seven goals. Pominville has six. Pouliot, O'Reilly and Eichel have four. No one else has more than two as the Sabres have stumbled to a 4-7-2 record, though they're 4-3-1 in the last eight.

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"There's still a lot of things that we need to be better at in terms of our structure, our game," Pouliot said. "Like at the end we kind of got away from it a little bit, but that hopefully gives us a big boost of confidence offensively."

It was a giant boost for Okposo.

"It found its way in," he said. "We moved our feet in the offensive zone. We worked. We chipped pucks in, and we were able to get them back and maintain possession. We were able to dictate the play in the offensive zone more than we have in games' past.

"We've just got to keep playing. You get a 5-1 lead, you just have to play smart, keep moving your feet, keep making plays. We just got on our heels. You know a team is going to come, make a push. If they score a goal, you've got to still get on your toes and just keep playing the right way.

"We'll learn that as we go."

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