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When a team is winless in 10 straight, an automatic assumption would be that all facets of their game is struggling. That suspicion would be false in the case of the Buffalo Sabres.
|Toni Lydman (photo: Getty Images) |
Lost in all the hubbub of the streak, half of the Sabres special teams has been performing at the highest of levels. The PK have killed an astounding 90.9 percent (20/22) of the opposition's opportunities during January.
Two goals over a seven-game span.
That's the second best percentage - tied with the New York Islanders - in the National Hockey League for this month. New Jersey leads at 95.0 percent.
"There's always room for improvement but it's something we take a lot of pride in," said defenseman Toni Lydman. "It's been working well for the last couple of games."
It's been working well for more than a couple of games. It's been especially good recently, killing off 14 consecutive chances.
"[Miller] has been awesome, that's reason number one," Lydman said. "When you're killing, you can eliminate a lot of chances, but with a man advantage or two, they're going to find a way to get a shot or a decent scoring chance.
"They say, a goalie is your best penalty killer and it's been true."
What about the second and third reasons for its success?
"It's the little things like making sure the puck goes 200 feet or at least out of the zone," Lydman said. "All kinds of things go into a successful kill.
"I think overall we've been doing a better job at just staying tight as a four-man group and keeping them on the outside. You've got to make the power play shoot from point, and not get that prime scoring chance right down the gut in the middle of the [defensive] box."
A surprising factor that hasn't had an negative effect on the unit's efforts is the absence of Derek Roy and Tim Connolly due to injury.
Normally, the loss of key personnel - that duo was one of the Sabres top two PK forward units - could/would hinder production. But the Sabres PK has been able to roll along without a hitch.
Lydman's explanation, depth.
"There are a lot of guys that can kill on this team," he said. "When those guys [Connolly and Roy] are out, we still have guys that are good at it.
"When you're down a man, it usually comes down to battle, especially if the power play has to dump it in. Those loose pucks are the key. If you get to them first, you at least can kill some time off the clock. Oftentimes, you get the puck out. Those little battles are the ones that we have to make sure that we win.
"If they get there first, and the puck starts bouncing, we have to make sure to put pressure on right away and attack. For the last little while, it's been working pretty good, but there have been a few close calls."
Lydman said success ultimately comes down to execution. The system hasn't changed, the players are just doing it better.
"Hopefully, we can keep this going," Lydman laughed. "These things usually go in spurts, but hopefully, we'll be able to keep this spurt going for the rest of the season."
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