|Tim Connolly (photo: Getty Images) |
The Buffalo Sabres power play is ever evolving. Throughout 82 games all units have to battle highs and lows, slumps and spurts. The Sabres, however, think they may have reached a point in that evolution where they would like to stay for a while.
With goals in six of their last eight games and a 32 percent conversion rate since Feb. 1, Buffalo's power play has found a groove that they may be able to ride into the playoffs.
"When you don't have success, you always chance, tweak and look to be better," said head coach Lindy Ruff. "We've gone down some roads and tried some things. There have been some things that haven't worked and there's been some things that have been better for us.
"We just try to stay down that road where things are going better for us."
A recent change in philosophy that promotes a more spaced attack, coupled with the return of ultra-talented pivot Tim Connolly, has the Sabres on that better part of the road right now.
The Sabres scored on three out of four opportunities against Florida on Feb. 10 and two out of five at Ottawa on Feb. 12 before being blanked in a goaltender's duel versus Toronto on Thursday.
"We've changed to a box-and-one, instead of an overload on one side," said Roy. "That gives us depth and gives the skilled players more room to make plays and ad lib at most times."
That's the basis of the power play's new design: flexibility. It's that increased ability for the unit to react under duress that's led to their effectiveness.
"Against Ottawa, we used to overload that one side and they would counter by overloading also," said Roy. "They would end up icing the puck on us."
With their new system, the team can more easily reverse the puck away from the overload of defenders or simply dump it into open skate for a retrieval.
"You react during the game a lot," said Campbell. "You react to how they forecheck on the breakout, you react whether or not they're aggressive in zone, so you react differently throughout the game and try to switch things up here and there."
"We have options," continued Campbell. "I just think we're using more of the ice now, which is a benefit for us not to just be on one side and have to be there and that's the only place you can go to."
The spacing also opens passing lanes to the point and shooting lanes to the net, making frontmen Paul Gaustad and Thomas Vanek
all the more dangerous.
"The most important part is getting [shots] through," said Ruff. "It's not how hard you pound the shot. A lot of times you're not going to beat the goaltender from there. Part of what we've worked hard at is having guys in position to pounce on rebounds.
"All we're asking for is a bounce."