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Mike Harrington: It's hard to believe Sabres haven't made a move for offense

It's hard to watch the Sabres be patient. They have to make some moves with this roster. Especially up front. Don't they?

They tried to win Saturday's game over Boston, 2-1. The third period rope-o-dope didn't work. It fell just short. They got outshot, 18-5, in the third while giving up a tying goal with 2½ minutes left and couldn't convert on an overtime power play. Then Carter Hutton, who was mostly terrific in this one, gave up an overly juicy rebound in overtime and Sean Kuraly capitalized on his good fortune to give the Bruins a 3-2 victory.

On a night when Brad Marchand, Charlie McAvoy and David Backes were all missing from the Boston lineup, the Sabres couldn't get two points against the team right behind them in the Atlantic Division. That really hurts.

And the biggest reason is they just don't get much scoring from anybody outside their top line. Now that mortality has struck Jack Eichel (one goal in five games), Jeff Skinner (one goal in four) and Sam Reinhart (no goals in 10, but 14 assists in that span), the offense is really challenged.

Saturday's game was an outlier of recent weeks. Marco Scandella swooped in on a Skinner rebound for the first goal, just the second by a defenseman in the last 14 games, and Johan Larsson scored the Sabres' first short-handed tally of the year on a neat Evan Rodrigues feed.

"It was great. You could feel it on our bench," coach Phil Housley said of the Larsson goal. "It really gave us energy and we're going to continue to need that down the stretch. I can't fault our effort the way we played tonight. If we continue that kind of effort, we'll be on the right side of things."

Perhaps. But the offense is still choking on exhaust fumes much of the time. So it's high time we see leading goal scorer C.J. Smith come up from Rochester. And maybe give Victor Olofsson a shot, too. Alex Nylander is nursing an injury or it might be time to try him as well.

Seriously now, Remi Elie played on the second line Thursday in St. Louis. That shows you some of the desperation Housley must be feeling. The pressure is building. The Sabres don't want to join the 2017 Philadelphia Flyers as the only teams in NHL history to miss the playoffs in a year when they had a 10-game winning streak, but a 4-6-4 record in the last 14 games doesn't bring much confidence.

Late penalty, missed opportunities cost Sabres in overtime loss to Boston

Folks want Jason Botterill to make a trade but it's just not that easy in the salary cap era. And GMs tend to hold on tight until the trade deadline. Botterill is obviously using his phone for more than ordering pizza and wings but you've got to have a willing partner and meet the price.

Ultimately, the Sabres need a second-line center because Casey Mittelstadt is overmatched in that spot most nights. Patrik Berglund failed there to start the year before flat-out quitting on this club because Housley, who only happens to be in the Hall of Fame, saw very little on the effort scale from the veteran and dared to scratch him.

The names you like are probably the ones Botterill has in mind, too. But there's going to be a price to pay for the likes of Los Angeles' Jeff Carter, Minnesota's Charlie Coyle or St. Louis' Brayden Schenn, to point out three guys you might find interesting.

Some of these numbers of players on lines 2-3 are just ghastly. Kyle Okposo, he of four years remaining at $6 million per season, has no goals in his last 21 games and no points in his last 14. Vladimir Sobotka has no points in 17 games and one assist in his last 23 while Ryan O'Reilly is St. Louis' best player (and don't even get me started on Berglund).

Jason Pominville has no points in 12 games and no goals in 14. Conor Sheary has one goal in 19 games, and that was last Saturday's empty-netter against Anaheim. Poor Mittelstadt, who has no wings converting anything he sets up, has one goal in 16 games and no points in seven. And he committed a grievous third-period turnover on a blind backhand pass into the slot that would be a bad play at Eden Prairie High in Minnesota, let alone against the Bruins.

The list goes on. Tage Thompson has no goals in 13 games and just one point in that span. Elie, who was actually pretty good Saturday, has just one point in his 13 games.

Rodrigues has just two goals in 33 games but he's the guy you sense a breakthrough coming from. He came out of the Christmas break and was one of the Sabres' best players Thursday in St. Louis, with six shots on goal. He's had 22 in his last seven games. No goals.

"You can't get frustrated. I'm getting the chances," Rodrigues said. "It's just comes down to me bearing down, finding a way to get the puck in the net, continuing to trust my game and play confident and they'll come.

"We got some secondary scoring today. We can't rely on the primaries. We have to find a way to chip in whether it's a dirty one. We have to support those guys."

Okposo has his moments at times down low, especially along the wall. But those moments are few and far between for a player whom former GM Tim Murray clearly overpaid.

This season is almost half over. A lot of these guys are who they are. It's time to try somebody else, either from the farm or from the outside.

The Wraparound: Bruins 3, Sabres 2, OT

 

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