Phil Housley made it clear the Buffalo Sabres’ reshuffled lines, defensive pairings and power play units were subject to change.
But after the Sabres scored twice with an extra skater in a 5-4 shootout victory against the Minnesota Wild on Tuesday night at KeyBank Center, his changes to jump-start the power play may stick.
Evan Rodridgues and Rasmus Dahlin each scored with the man advantage as the Sabres went 2 for 2 on the power play against Minnesota after converting just 3 of 33 opportunities over the previous 13 games. Minnesota entered the game with the fifth-best penalty kill in the NHL (83.8 percent).
It was the first time the Sabres scored two power play goals in a game since Dec. 15, when they lost 4-3 in a shootout at Washington.
“The power play is work,” Eichel said after Tuesday morning’s skate, before earning an assist on both power play goals against the Wild. “Some of these kills in the NHL, they're full-out pressure for two minutes. Everybody has got to be on the same page. But as soon as you get a goal on the power play, your confidence starts building and the guys start getting in a groove a bit.
“At times this year, the power play has been good for us and you look at the game in Washington. There's been times where it's obviously not helped us. It's about building momentum for our group and if we get the opportunity, trying to capitalize.”
Housley reshaped the team’s power play units as part of sweeping changes on Monday, when the Sabres’ 17 percent success rate ranked 22nd in the NHL.
The first power play unit now features Eichel and Dahlin at the points, with Jeff Skinner, Casey Mittelstadt and Sam Reinhart up front.
The second power play unit features Rasmus Ristolainen and Rodrigues at the points, along with Conor Sheary, Kyle Okposo and Tage Thompson.
“We had good chemistry, both units,” Dahlin said. “I think we played faster this time, had a lot of shots on the net. I think that was the biggest change.”
The Sabres’ two power play goals on five shots against the Wild equaled their total over the previous 11 games combined.
They were 2 for 28 on the power play in that span, and 1 for 19 over the last seven games – with Okposo snapping a 0 for 18 skid in the third period of Friday’s 7-3 loss to Chicago.
The Sabres have scored on the power play in consecutive games for the first time since Dec. 22 and 27 against Anaheim and St. Louis, respectively.
“It’s good for them,” Housley said. “It’s good for their confidence. They haven’t been rewarded. They’ve had good looks, and they haven’t gotten the results, but it’s good for them for their confidence.”
Rodrigues scored on the team’s first opportunity Tuesday, with Okposo screening Wild goalie Devan Dubnyk to give the Sabres a 1-0 lead just 4:31 into the game. Ristolainen earned an assist, in addition to Eichel.
It was Rodrigues’ fifth goal in the last seven games. His seven goals this season tie a career high.
“I’m just starting to get the bounces now,” Rodrigues said. “I kept saying throughout the year that the chances were coming, and I wasn’t capitalizing. That’s all I needed to do was just start burying my chances, not get frustrated with my game because I thought I was playing well. Now they’re finally starting to go in.”
Dahlin scored on a hard wrister in the second period, after a pass from Eichel, to give the Sabres a 3-1 lead with 8:27 remaining in the frame. Mittelstadt also picked up an assist on the goal.
“The simplification of just shooting the puck probably will be good,” Eichel said, essentially foreshadowing Dahlin’s goal. “At times this year, we've been one-and-done in terms of having just one chance in the zone and then the puck gets cleared. It's important to make it tough on the other team. If you look at our goals this year, a lot of them have been after the first initial attack, retrieving the puck and making a play off it. It's important to do that.”
Story topics: Buffalo Sabres