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Sabres' short-handed unit demonstrates killer instinct

As the losses piled up for the Buffalo Sabres, the impressive work of their penalty killers got pushed to the background. Now that the Sabres are banking a few points, it's time for the short-handed unit to move to the front.

It sure took center stage Tuesday.

With the Sabres holding a 2-0 lead over Ottawa midway through the second period, Johan Larsson joined Benoit Pouliot in the penalty box. Buffalo didn't blink, thwarting the five-on-three to bring the fans alive in KeyBank Center.

The Sabres' pulse quickened, too. They scored on the power play two minutes later, and it turned out to be the winner in a 3-2 victory.

"That was huge," Pouliot said of the penalty kill. "That's what gave us the big boost, too. It's not always the power play that's going to give you momentum. When you get a big kill like that, especially a five-on-three, the boys get up. The boys rally. The boys feel good."

The short-handed unit has every right to feel good. Buffalo went 3 for 3 against the Senators, improving to 36 for 39 at home this season. That 92.3 percent success rate ranks third in the NHL.

"The guys who are sent out there to kill, they really take pride in that," defenseman Justin Falk said. "They're warriors who work as hard as they can in those battles to get pucks out or to block shots. We really take pride in that. That's an area that we try to focus on so we can help this team out."

Falk blocked two shots during Pouliot's solo penalty. After Larsson went to the box, the trio of Rasmus Ristolainen, Zemgus Girgensons and Scott Wilson took over. Goaltender Robin Lehner was steady throughout, making three of his 24 saves while short-handed.

"Wherever they passed the puck, we were in the right spot," Ristolainen said. "It was a huge kill for us."

The power-play unit made the kill count. After getting booed during a shotless showing in the first period, the Sabres looked like last year's top-ranked group. Quick passes resulted in Evander Kane firing a one-timer home from the right circle.

"We've been working on that pass play in the practice," Ristolainen said. "We had a chance when I saw Kaner open, and it was a great shot."

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After going 10 games without a power-play goal, Buffalo has scored with the man-advantage in three straight. It's not a coincidence the team is starting to get a few points. The Sabres are 2-0-2 in the last four games as the power play has improved to a modest 13.4 percent.

It still ranks 30th in the league, but it's a start.

"You look at the rut that we were in early, a power-play goal probably gets us three or four more wins," coach Phil Housley said. "But it didn't. Early on in the first period, I give it to our power-play guys because you're going through that again. You can't get in the zone, and you have to just remain patient.

"We win a faceoff, and now you can execute. There was really good movement out there. They stuck with it, and that shows some good mental toughness on their part because sometimes when it goes that way you can go in a different direction. I give a hand to them that they stuck with it."

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The Sabres have a chance to extend their good vibe with games against Philadelphia on Thursday and Carolina on Friday. They're the bottom two teams in the Metropolitan Division, and they also rank in the bottom five in the NHL in penalty killing.

The Sabres will try to turn their 3-for-9 run into something special and lasting.

"That's a thing we needed to work on obviously," Pouliot said. "It hasn't been very good this year, but that can win us games. When we haven't scored many goals, the power play has got to deliver, and we did that. It's huge for us.

"It's something that we can't get away from, though. We need that all year long."

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