The Buffalo Sabres, who host the Pittsburgh Penguins on Friday, are trying to find the right blend of being proficient at their style of play and getting that to translate into points.
It remains a work in progress, as Wednesday’s 4-3 overtime loss against the Capitals in Washington showed.
“It was obviously a disappointment that we didn’t get two points, but I felt our guys played more the style that we want to play,” Sabres coach Don Granato said.
Buffalo never trailed in regulation in that game, and Washington scored with 1:15 left in regulation to tie it.
Even the youngest member of the Sabres could easily point to what the team did well in that game and what they need to do better.
“I think we were playing north-south hockey,” forward Zach Benson said. “We were hounds on pucks. Just high-energy, high-pace. That’s when we’re at our best. It’s no secret.”
Benson, 18, was Buffalo’s first-round draft pick this year, 13th overall. He scored his first goal Wednesday, but it’s unclear whether he will be around for the game against Pittsburgh.
Benson has played in nine games, so the Sabres must decide whether to return him to junior hockey or keep him. Once he plays in 10 games, his entry-level contract kicks in.
Buffalo has lost four of five (1-3-1).
The Penguins, who have lost three of four, can point to one culprit in particular. They have gone five games in a row without a power-play goal.
Pittsburgh has an efficiency rate — if one can call it that — of 13.7 percent (7-of-51) on the man-advantage this season to rank 25th in the NHL.
“Not going the way we want,” said Pittsburgh defenseman Erik Karlsson, who was acquired in a splashy offseason trade in part to boost a power play that already featured such offensive talent as Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin and Jake Guentzel.
On Wednesday, the Penguins were 0-for-5 on the power play and got shut out at home by the New York Rangers 1-0.
“These guys, they care a lot. They have an awful lot of pride,” Pittsburgh coach Mike Sullivan said of his power-play crew. “When it doesn’t go their way, they put a lot of pressure on themselves to make it work. I think that was the case (Wednesday). I think we were forcing it.
“Because we were forcing it, we looked robotic instead of just instinctive.”
The Penguins have made adjustments to the power play throughout the season, but a couple things stand out, and not in a good way. They have not consistently gotten a strong net-front presence. They have not consistently retrieved pucks and they have allowed opponents to clear the puck from the zone.
“We’re trying to pass it into the net sometimes. That’s not the way to have success,” Guentzel said. “You’ve got to make the right play, and you’ve got to move the puck fast and move the puck hard and try to get (the penalty killers) tired that way.”
Buffalo is tied for sixth in the league in penalty killing at 85.7 percent, so Friday will be another strong test for Pittsburgh’s power play.
–Field Level Media