Special teams were the difference in the Buffalo Sabres’ 3-2 shootout loss to the St. Louis Blues on Thursday night when Buffalo managed to gain a point in the standings.
They allowed St. Louis to score twice on the power play while going 0-4 themselves and they struggled again in their next game, going 0-3 with the man advantage at Dallas on Saturday. Three of the opportunities they had in those games were 5-on-3 situations.
Still among the top 10 teams in conversion rate (Buffalo currently ranks eighth at 21.5 percent), the Sabres will look to rekindle their success with the man advantage when they host St. Louis on Monday night as First Niagara Center.
“I know we’ve obviously got to be a lot better on our power play. We're struggling 5-on-3 but the 5-on-4 is the same,” forward Jack Eichel said. “That should be something that helps us win games and I think that it’s been hurting us more than helping us as of late so we’ve just got to be better on special teams.”
St. Louis has been efficient on the penalty kill lately, and not just against Buffalo. The Blues have only allowed one conversion in 15 attempts over their last four games. Their 85-percent kill rate this season ranks fourth in the League.
Where the numbers don’t stack in the Blues’ favor is on the power play. The Blues’ 17.1-percent scoring clip ranks 21st in the NHL, due in part to a 0-21 stretch in six games from Oct. 20 to Nov. 3.
They’ve scored on the power play in six of their nine games since, however, and their 2-for-3 effort against the Sabres marked their second multi-goal outing of the year (they also went 2-for-3 on the power play against Nashville on Nov. 11).
“I said it last time, I think they’re a way better power play than what their stats show,” Sabres defenseman Zach Bogosian said. “I think there are some good players out there that can make some good plays and you’ve just got to be aware of where those guys are at all times.”
One of those players is forward Vladimir Tarasenko, whose is tied for second in the League with 13 goals. The Sabres gave Tarasenko a chance with the man advantage Thursday and he made them pay.
Blues forward David Backes swiped a rebound in front of the net out to Alexander Steen in the right faceoff circle. As all four of Buffalo’s skaters gravitated toward Steen, Tarasenko was left alone at the top of the opposite circle and Steen found him with a pass almost immediately.
With room to shoot, Tarasenko delivered a hard wrister for the Blues’ second goal.
“A couple of times in St. Louis, you kind of get running around a little bit,” Eichel said of the Sabres’ penalty kill. “If I remember correctly you get running around, they make a play across the ice to Tarasenko, and he’s got a really good shot. He’s a guy you need to keep the puck away from, especially on the power play, because he’s going to bring to the net and he’s going to bring it hard.”
The first goal they allowed, to defenseman Kevin Shattenkirk, came in the midst of an otherwise well-killed five-minute major for high-sticking. Buffalo will look to the better part of that kill as an example of how to win the special teams battle on Monday.
“In St. Louis, other than when they scored their goals, I thought we rebounded really well,” Bogosian said. “It’s tough killing off a five-minute penalty but I thought we bounced back.”
Pregame coverage begins at 6:30 p.m. with Tops Sabres Gamenight on MSG-B and Bell TV. The game can also be heard on ESPN 1520 with puck drop set for 7 p.m. Linus Ullmark will start in net for Buffalo.
Defenseman Mark Pysyk returned to the ice for the team’s morning skate on Monday after missing the last two games with a lower-body bone bruise, but Sabres coach Dan Bylsma said that Pysyk is not yet ready to return to game action and will remain out against St. Louis.
Forward Zemgus Girgensons, meanwhile, was absent again Monday morning after staying back from the team’s recent road trip to rehab an injury he sustained after being hit in the third period against San Jose on Oct. 14.
Bylsma said that Girgensons has been skating on his own and is day-to-day.
The Blues, meanwhile, will have center Paul Stastny in the lineup for the first time since breaking his foot on Oct. 16. Stastny will play between Steen and Tarasenko.
26 Matt Moulson – 90 Ryan O'Reilly – 12 Brian Gionta
9 Evander Kane – 15 Jack Eichel – 23 Sam Reinhart
82 Marcus Foligno – 22 Johan Larsson – 63 Tyler Ennis
44 Nicolas Deslauriers – 17 David Legwand – 88 Jamie McGinn
4 Josh Gorges – 55 Rasmus Ristolainen
29 Jake McCabe – 47 Zach Bogosian
25 Carlo Colaiacovo – 46 Cody Franson
35 Linus Ullmark
31 Chad Johnson