While the Buffalo Sabres have picked up five points in their last three games, there are still areas of frustration in their game that they'd like to iron out.
One is the power play, which is 2-for-its-last-23 and 3-for-26 in the month of February. Buffalo hasn't scored in its past 13 chances – a span of four games.
"There is some frustration creeping in with the power play and both units. We're talking about multiple games now," Sabres coach Dan Bylsma said after practice Thursday at First Niagara Center. "Really, it comes down to components of your power play that you need to be successful aren't there."
Bylsma cited the team's entries and timing as two aspects they've been focused on improving. On the flip side, the penalty kill has been very good, going 19-for-21 over the last seven games.
What else has been frustrating the team? Shootouts.
This month, three of the Sabres' eight games have gone to overtime and two of them have reached the shootout. That includes Tuesday night's 2-1 loss at Ottawa, in which the Senators scored on both of their opportunities while the Sabres didn't convert at all.
Buffalo's shootout woes this season have been well-documented. Their shootout record is 1-5 and Sabres shooters are only 2-for-19 on their attempts.
"They're miserable – a source of frustration right now," Bylsma said. "You look at our record in the shootout and our number of one-goal games [27 with a record of 10-10-7]. Then you and add to that the shootout-times we have been able to come up with the extra point. It's a big source of frustration."
Buffalo's only shootout goals this season have come from Matt Moulson and Tyler Ennis.
The Sabres could avoid shootouts completely if they were to capitalize during the five-minute 3-on-3 overtime period that precedes it.
The team's best chance in overtime on Tuesday came on a Jack Eichel breakaway with 18 seconds remaining.
"It became a little bit more of a stationary and defensive game and protecting the middle of the ice. It didn't have that free-flow up and down the ice. We got our one look and didn't capitalize on it," Bylsma said.
They also had a good chance to begin the extra period. Defenseman Rasmus Ristolainen started overtime on Thursday in Ottawa with Eichel and Josh Gorges. Eichel won the opening draw and Ristolainen rushed up the ice, putting a wrist shot on net eight seconds in.
"Every time I play, I want to score," Ristolainen said Thursday.
He said that as a defenseman, he's looking for the opposition to make a mistake so he can jump up ice and capitalize on it. As a group, they'll be looking to maintain possession to try and generate better scoring opportunities.
"I think we can play more offense. We just need the puck and try to hold it, don't throw it away – try to keep it and make plays," Ristolainen said.
Ryan O'Reilly and Zemgus Girgensons missed practice while Daniel Catenacci returned to the ice with his teammates for the first time since sustaining an upper-body injury on Feb. 11 in Philadelphia. Catenacci filled in for O'Reilly on the top line and on the power play.
O'Reilly has been battling an illness while Girgensons was given a maintenance day. Bylsma expects both to be ready for Friday's game in Columbus.
Catenacci said Thursday he took a test at the hospital in the morning and felt good after practice. According to Bylsma, the team will wait to make sure Catenacci is 100-percent healthy before a deciding on his status. Catenacci is currently on injured reserve.
He sustained the injury on a hit from Radko Gudas late in the third period of the game against the Flyers. Gudas received a five-minute charging major on the play but faced no hearing or supplemental discipline from the NHL.
"I really have no comment on the hit," Catenacci said. "I'm just happy to be healthy and happy to be skating again."
Evander Kane will return to the lineup after serving a team-issued suspension Tuesday night. Kane had overslept and missed practice the day before.
"I have great optimism that it's a lesson learned to be quite frank," Bylsma said. "But it's one he has to also start to show and continue to show that he has learned that lesson. So I'm extremely optimistic that that's the direct he's headed in."
Kane apologized to his teammates while in Ottawa and reiterated his dedication to them after practice on Thursday.
"I'm going to make sure this doesn't happen again and I'm not in the same situation again because it's not a trend that I want to be a part of," he said. "It was definitely a lesson.
"…We have a really good group of guys in here and it was tough to let those guys down the other day. I'm going to make sure I'm the best player I possibly can be for these guys. That will start in Columbus moving forward here."
And because it looks like Kane, O'Reilly and Girgensons will all play against the Blue Jackets, the Sabres reassigned rookie Justin Bailey to Rochester of the American Hockey League.
Bylsma said that he liked the way Bailey used his size to be a physical presence around the net and pointed to Bailey's game against the Flyers as the best example of how he can be an effective player in the NHL.
LINE COMBINATIONS & DEFENSIVE PAIRINGS
9 Evander Kane – 43 Daniel Catenacci – 23 Sam Reinhart
88 Jamie McGinn – 15 Jack Eichel – 56 Justin Bailey
82 Marcus Foligno – 22 Johan Larsson – 12 Brian Gionta
44 Nicolas Deslauriers – 17 David Legwand – 26 Matt Moulson
4 Josh Gorges – 55 Rasmus Ristolainen
29 Jake McCabe – 47 Zach Bogosian
3 Mark Pysyk – 46 Cody Franson
6 Mike Weber – 25 Carlo Colaiacovo
40 Robin Lehner
31 Chad Johnson