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Sabres Notebook: Power play dominating; goalies rebound; Housley says thanks

VANCOUVER – They had to show up at some point, right? The Buffalo Sabres' power play dominated the NHL last year, and the same guys are back. Things had to start clicking sometime.

The time is now.

The Sabres scored three power-play goals during Tuesday's 5-0 demolition of Edmonton, moving the long-suffering unit to 6 for 15 (40 percent) in the last four games.

"Right now we're all on the same page, and I think that was evident," right wing Sam Reinhart said. "We all have fun with each other when we're out there playing like that and reading and reacting off each other. We have a game plan and we know where each other is at, but a lot of it is reacting. That's when we're playing our best out there."

The five-man group of Reinhart, Jack Eichel, Ryan O'Reilly, Kyle Okposo and Rasmus Ristolainen toyed with the Oilers. They scored on their first three chances and caused the fans in Rogers Place to derisively cheer the home team when Edmonton finally stopped the final power play.

"We're all just doing our jobs," Eichel said. "The more reps you get together, the more times you go out, the more comfortable you start to feel.

"It's good because you're seeing everybody score. You're seeing Risto score. Okie's got a couple on the power play this year. Everyone's kind of contributing."

No one was contributing for the opening three months. Buffalo, which ranked No. 1 last season, fell to the bottom of the league at one point and had been solidly encased in the No. 30 spot. They've climbed to 26th at 15.6 percent.

The Sabres started to show a little life around New Year's, and they've got tons of pep in their step now. They have at least one power-play goal in five of the last seven games.

"We're moving around pretty well," said Eichel, who had one goal and two assists on the power play against Edmonton. "There's a confidence right now when we go out there that we're going to succeed and get the job done. Earlier in the year, it was a bit frustrating part of our game, but right now it's something we're able to build off."

The unit is succeeding in numerous ways. On the opening goal Tuesday, Ristolainen got his shot through from the point and Reinhart tipped it in front. Eichel got open for a blistering one-timer on the second power-play goal. The third was a quick-strike masterpiece. The Oilers were bewildered as tic-tac-toe passing by Eichel and Reinhart to O'Reilly made it 5-0.

While the skill players filled the score sheet, the credit was shared team-wide. All four lines applied consistent pressure on the Oilers, forcing them to take two hooking penalties, a cross-checking call and a roughing minor.

"That's how you win games," left wing Zemgus Girgensons said. "It's maybe not always about who gets those goals. It's a full-out team effort. Everyone chipped in. Other lines have worn them down, and it just happens that they score.

"They're the guys that pull the team, but it's just a full team effort these last two games."

Coach Phil Housley concurred.

"A lot of that power-play success has to do with the work five-on-five," Housley said. "When your five-on-five game is really, really solid, it reflects on the power play.

"They're benefiting from guys doing the dirty work and drawing a penalty. Then when they have an opportunity on the power play, they're cashing in. It was really clicking. They're gaining a lot of confidence now, which is important as move forward."

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Going back to Dec. 23, the Sabres' net was a go-to zone for the opponent. It was an 11-game onslaught that had Robin Lehner and Chad Johnson grasping at air and debating whether to change their equipment, styles and routines.

So as much as anyone in the dressing room, the goaltenders are relishing the fun of the last two games.

Johnson stopped 32 of 33 shots during Monday's 2-1 overtime victory in Calgary, his hometown. Lehner was a perfect 33 for 33 against the Oilers.

"I want to be successful here as everyone else," Lehner said. "It's not about one guy or two guys or three guys. When we all show up, all 20 of us, we're a good hockey team. It makes the job easier for everyone. That's what happened the last two games, and these are the results you get."

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The combined .985 save percentage the past two games is a welcome relief from the dismal numbers that preceded the run. Since losing to Carolina on Dec. 23, Johnson had allowed 14 goals on 109 shots for a .871 save percentage, and Lehner had allowed 28 goals on 228 shots for a .877 save percentage.

The combined .875 save percentage wasn't all their fault, but they certainly felt the brunt of it. They're appreciative of the help.

"Everybody contributed," Johnson said. "It wasn't really one guy. I made saves. Guys blocked shots. Everybody contributed, and that's what you need."


Victor Antipin filled the stat sheet in his return to the lineup. Although the Sabres defenseman didn't have a point against Edmonton, he blocked five shots, took two, had one hit, one takeaway and a plus-1 rating in 19:31 of ice time.

It was Antipin's first game since Dec. 19 after missing 13 as a healthy scratch and flu fighter.

Sabres Notebook: Antipin happy in NHL; Beaulieu sent home; Eichel vs. McDavid

The defenseman was one of only a handful of players to take part in a short, optional practice Wednesday in Rogers Arena. Also on the ice was defenseman Josh Gorges, who missed the last two games due to illness.


Housley is a guy who appreciates nice gestures. He really appreciated the ones shown by the Flames and Oilers.

Both organizations honored late USA Hockey executive Jim Johannson with pregame ceremonies. After saluting Johannson's accomplishments, the Flames and Oilers asked their fans for a moment of silent remembrance.

Housley was a close friend of Johannson, who died unexpectedly Sunday at age 53, and he relished the moments.

"I want to say thank you to the Calgary Flames and Edmonton Oilers," Housley said. "The remembrance for Jim Johannson was classy of the organizations to do. I just wanted to say I appreciate that."

Sabres Notebook: Hockey world mourns loss of Johannson

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