STOCKHOLM — The weather in Sweden was sunny and picturesque during the first three days of the Sabres' trip here, albeit very cold with temperatures barely making it into the 30s. It was cloudy and drizzly on Thursday. Friday and Saturday have brought dark skies and heavy rain, a good backdrop for the Sabres' struggling offense, which is the major reason the club is in a 1-4-1 slide since its 8-1-1 start.
What's happened? Lots of things, and it would be wise for the Sabres to try to reverse some of these patterns as soon as today's game.
Chasing the games: Sam Reinhart said, "you're searching for something there" when I asked him about the Sabres' sluggish starts of late after Friday's 3-2 loss, but there's no deep digging required here. The Sabres are suddenly chasing games night after night and don't have enough firepower to turn things around.
The Sabres have been outscored, 7-0, in the first period of the last three games and 13-2 in the opening 20 minutes of the last seven.
No need to look deep. The numbers are staring right at you. That's a trend. Coach Ralph Krueger cited major breakdowns as a reason when asked about it prior to today's game.
"We can definitely work on a better activation early on and possibly more patience. I think sometimes it's been a lack of patience that's created opportunity for the opposition. We need to be a little more patience as we enter the games and be more comfortable with 0-0 scores as we were earlier in the season."
"When the offense isn't going, that generates a little more pressure on you," Jeff Skinner said after Friday's loss. "When your offense is going, that doesn't seem as insurmountable. ... We have opportunities, we have to bear down. We have to find a way to get to the net and score some more goals."
Trend Two: The Sabres have nine goals in the last six games, not more than two in any of them.
Trend Three: They're getting no goals from large swaths of their lineup as Reinhart, Skinner and Jack Eichel have combined for nine of the last 13 scores in that seven-game stretch. The only other forward to score is Vladimir Sobotka, who is now injured.
Trend Four: The Buffalo power play -- which made the season early by going 9 for 21 in the first six games -- is in a 3-for-23 slide and is 0 for 7 in the last three games.
Trend Five: The Sabres had just 22 shots on goal in the game, the fourth time in five starts they didn't get to 30.
"Our offense definitely needs to desperately want to shoot more and create more pucks to the net," said coach Ralph Krueger, who is harping with his team about creating more net-front pressure.
"We'd like to generate a little bit more down low, off O-zone cycles," said Skinner. "You have to find way to get to the second and third (shots) and get some ugly goals because those are the majority of goals scored in the league."
Line shuffles: Krueger said after Friday night's game that Sobotka will not play tonight after he was victimized by a late low-bridge from Tampa Bay's Nikita Kucherov during the first period.
Evan Rodrigues, the lone spare forward on the trip, will move into the lineup and it will be interesting to see how the Sabres put together their lines because Rodrigues is unlikely to slot into the second line with Jeff Skinner and Marcus Johnson
In the nets: Krueger was asked by Swedish media after Friday's game if he would consider using Linus Ullmark back-to-back and said the team is pondering its goaltending choice. But there was almost zero chance of that and Carter Hutton will start tonight.
The Lightning are going with backup Curtis McElhinney, who is not off to the kind of start he had last year in Carolina. McElhinney is 1-1-2, 3.93/.899. That's a far cry from last year's numbers with the Hurricanes (20-11-2, 2.58/.912), when he was working under current Sabres coach Mike Bales.
Rasmus Dahlin prior to today's game: "Yesterday, I was really nervous. There was a lot going on and Tampa came out hard. They were really good. So today, I think all the nerves are gone and we can really play our game. Especially for me, I can hopefully just play hockey."
Lots of snarl: For two teams that had not met in nearly nine months, Friday's game was oddly chippy. The Kucherov hit probably ratcheted things up quite a bit, as did Rasmus Ristolainen's hard shot on Alex Volkov (which earned an interference penalty).
"It's great," Ristolainen said of the increased physical play. "It's a tough loss but it's a good thing we can play again tomorrow and make it better."
Milestone marker: Casey Mittelstadt will play in his 100th NHL game tonight. His first NHL goal came in a game at Tampa on April 6, 2018. Mittelstadt has three goals this season but is like most of the Buffalo forwards, with none over the last seven games.