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Special teams disasters piling up for Sabres

SAN JOSE – There's no need to go searching for deep reasoning. No intense study of analytics is required here. The stat geeks can throw their heat maps and charts in the garbage can for all they're worth at this early point in the season.

That's because the current bottom line to the Buffalo Sabres' season is right in front of everyone's eyes: Special teams are killing them.

The Sabres gave up two power-play goals in a 27-second span early in the first period Thursday night and a third one midway through the third. They were a disheveled mess while going 0 for 5 on their own man-advantage chances.

The end result was a 5-1 loss to the San Jose Sharks in a game that featured a hat trick by Sharks center and lifelong Bills fan Logan Couture. The Sabres left SAP Center clearly wondering what it's going to take for them to score when the opponent takes a penalty.

The Sabres had just seven shots on goal on their five power plays and continue to struggle with offensive zone entries and puck possession.

"You get in ruts like this and you just have to shoot pucks and go back to fundamentals," said Kyle Okposo. "Pucks to the net, pucks to the net. You've got to get volume, volume, volume and then the back-door plays and seam plays and all that stuff comes."

An obvious move seems to be to try Rasmus Dahlin and perhaps Jeff Skinner on the top unit and move Okposo and Rasmus Ristolainen off of it, keeping Conor Sheary, Jack Eichel and Sam Reinhart as the forwards up front.

Coach Phil Housley seems loathe to make in-game changes, and perhaps a move will come when the team practices Friday at the Los Angeles Kings' complex in El Segundo in advance of Saturday afternoon's game in Staples Center.

Said Housley, when asked specifically about Dahlin: "I think we're going to evaluate everything. We had key times in the game where our power play could have shined and we didn't execute. One of the things we have to get back to is shooting pucks and keeping it simple. That's really all they did. They just tried to get the puck to the net."

"When special teams and power play are struggling as much as it is, you've got to go back to work and go back to simplicity," agreed defenseman Jake McCabe. "Look at their power play. It was nothing special. They were getting pucks to the net, bodies to the net. It creates chaos and it's tough to defend."

The Sabres don't do nearly enough of that. They overpass and there's very little traffic to bother opposing goalies.

The Wraparound: Sharks 5, Sabres 1

When the Sabres wake up Friday morning, they'll be 24th on the power play at 13.8 percent and just 28th on the penalty kill at 69.6 percent. The power play is just 4 for 29 on the season and only 1 for 14 on the road. And it's pretty much told the tale in all seven games thus far.

In Buffalo's three wins: 4 for 9.

In Buffalo's four losses: 0 for 20. Yes, 0 for 20.

The last three Sabres losses: 0 for 7 vs. Colorado, 0 for 6 vs. Vegas, 0 for 5 vs. San Jose.

The game started badly for the Sabres when Okposo took a careless high-sticking penalty at 1:45, drawing a double minor. Joonas Donskoi scored at 3:35 when a puck ricocheted off his chest into the net and Couture tallied his first at 4:02 on a long screened shot.

It was an uphill climb the rest of the night.

"It's tough. A high stick," Okposo said. "They score twice on the PP. That's on me. It's just a tough play."

But after that, things went OK for 40 minutes. McCabe scored the Sabres' only goal at 1:35 of the second period, leaking in from the point to swoop on a loose puck in the left circle and beat Sharks goalie Martin Jones.

At 5-on-5, the Sabres held San Jose to two shots on goal in the first period and had 14 of the game's 19 attempts. They were still leading in even-strength attempts (27-25) and shots on goal (11-9) through two periods before imploding in the third.

The Sharks outshot Buffalo overall, 20-9, in the final 20 minutes. They doubled the Sabres in attempts (36-18) and crushed them at 5 on 5 (29-7).

"We put emphasis on 5-on-5 but it takes more than that to win a hockey game," Okposo said. "You've got to score on the power play and you've got to kill penalties and we didn't do that. We have to put together the whole package."

To date, the offense hasn't been a part of it. The Sabres have a paltry 13 goals in seven games and are 30th in the NHL in scoring average at 1.86 goals per game.

Through seven games, there is $23 million worth of Sabres cap hit without a goal. The list includes Okposo, Rasmus Ristolainen, Sam Reinhart, Zemgus Girgensons, Casey Mittelstadt, Evan Rodrigues and Tage Thompson.

All but Berglund, who was a surprise healthy scratch for this one after a bad defensive miscue Tuesday in Vegas, have played every game thus far.

"I thought we were the better 5-on-5 team in the first two periods," Housley said. "We had some incredible pressure, some really good looks and missed the net on some really good opportunities.

"When it is 2-1 going to the third or 3-1, we've got to stick with the plan. That's part of learning to win. We force things that aren't there and they come back at us."

Sharks' Erik Karlsson raves about Rasmus Dahlin, who lists Swedish star as his hockey idol

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