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Sabres' mandate: Keep shooting but cause more traffic at net

It has taken more than a year, but Phil Housley seems to have gotten the style of play he wants from the Buffalo Sabres on a regular basis.

The Sabres are moving together as a five-man unit, controlling possession and firing pucks on the net at historic levels.

Now comes the tweaking.

When Ottawa's Craig Anderson made 46 saves last week, the Sabres chalked up their loss to a bad start and a stand-on-the-head finish by the opposing goaltender.

When Henrik Lundqvist stole a win Sunday in New York from Buffalo even though the Sabres had a 40-22 advantage in shots on goal, the Blue and Gold tipped their helmets to The King. Fair enough.

But they can do more. That's two lights-out outings in net against the Sabres in three games. What if Carey Price does that for Montreal Thursday night in Bell Centre?

The Sabres would be a reason for the trend. Despite all the shots, it might be too easy for goalies to see the puck.

"We still have to have that attack mindset and shot mentality but there are opportunities where we're at the net but not standing directly over the top of the goalie," coach Phil Housley said after practice Tuesday. "That's one area we could do better. We're fighting to get there, which is a good sign.

"We've had some second looks and second opportunities. If we continue to play like that, shots are going to fall. We have to keep firing the puck and hopefully we can cash in on some rebounds."

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The Sabres' shots-on-goal count the last three games reads 48, 41 and 40 – the club's first consecutive trio of games with 40+ shots since March 20-25, 2009. If they do it again Thursday, it would mark their first run of four straight since Jan. 19-26, 1975.

"Goalies are really good if they see the first shot and they'll control rebounds," said winger Jason Pominville. "Phil is big on shots creating offense and guys are buying into it. We had great zone time with the puck but we were also creating things with shots, getting those defenders to move. Once they're all covering half of the zone and you're swarmed in the corner, a shot can open things up and change sides."

The '75 Stanley Cup finalists went 3-1 in their four-game stretch, scoring 20 goals. They beat Kansas City (5-0), Detroit (5-1) and Montreal (7-6) before losing to Atlanta (4-3).

Buffalo went just 1-2 in the '09 trio of games, scoring 12 goals but suffering losses to Philadelphia (6-4) and the New York Rangers (5-3) before posting a 5-3 win over Florida.

The Sabres are 1-2 in this stretch as well, with the losses in Ottawa (4-2) and New York (3-1) sandwiched around their 9-2 crunching of the Senators on Saturday.

"We're buying into how we have to play and buying into everybody being on the same page," said winger Kyle Okposo. "It's what Phil has been preaching and what he preached last year. At times, guys were on their own page. That's something we focused on as a group, making sure the message gets relayed from Phil to the leadership group to the rest of the players and that it was one message."

Through 15 games, the Sabres have taken 18 more shot attempts than their opponents (639-621) and have 15 more shots on goal (356-351). That may not seem like much but it requires the perspective of recent history.

Recall that the 2014-15 tanking Sabres were the worst team in modern NHL history at shot suppression. They gave up an astonishing 2,183 more shots than they attempted and were minus-1,456 in shots on goal – or 17.8 per game.

By comparison, Housley's first Buffalo team last season was minus-260 in attempts and minus-125 in shots on goal. That's a good deal of improvement in the first 15 games of this season.

"They're taking pucks to the net. I don't know if it's the message but they can see it," Housley said. "Even if it's a bad-angle shot, it creates offense for us. We're on the retrieval mode. Other teams are reacting to us. We gain possession and we can start our cycle play."

Okposo absolutely believes there's been a bigger buy-in this season that has created results.

"We seem to have found our demeanor in how we're playing," he said. "There's a certain mood before the games, during the games. There's good energy and it's very calm. Nobody is really rattled, second-guessing themselves or frustrated. You just go about your business and play the same way. That's been the biggest turn."

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