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Dahlin's play at the point has contributed to power-play success

Defenseman leads NHL blue liners with 7 points in 4 games

by Jourdon LaBarber @jourdonlabarber / Sabres.com

Rasmus Dahlin smirked when asked what's changed for the Sabres on the power play from a year ago. 

"Olofsson is here," the defenseman said matter-of-factly. 

Yes, Victor Olofsson's lethal shot had been a difference maker for a Buffalo power play that leads the NHL with eight goals in four games. Olofsson has six goals in 10 contests dating back to the end of last season, all of which have come with the extra man. 

The addition of Olofsson makes life difficult on penalty killers, who have a variety of threats to keep their eye on. Jack Eichel is usually on the flank opposite Olofsson, and he's a threat to either thread the needle with a pass or bury one himself. Sam Reinhart is there to tip pucks, collect rebounds, or feed his teammates from the net front. Forty-goal scorer Jeff Skinner is positioned in the slot. 

"Everyone is a threat out there," Dahlin said. "Everyone can shoot, so our opponent doesn't really know what to expect."

The task of assessing and directing those options falls on Dahlin, who is tied with Eichel for the league lead with five power-play points. His seven points overall lead NHL defensemen and are tied for third among all skaters, one behind leaders Connor McDavid and Mika Zibanejad. 

Dahlin's four-game point streak is the third-longest by a teenage defenseman to open a season in NHL history. He had points in five straight games as an 18-year-old rookie last season. 

"It's just everything kind of running through him from the one side to the other and to the net," Sabres coach Ralph Krueger said. "That's what the playmaker at the top needs to be able to do. We haven't used his shot maybe as much as we could in future games, but overall just his ability to see where the options are. 

"He's still got an upside, which is really exciting. We see opportunity. We're working on learners with him every single day so that's far from a finished product. It's really just his offensive skill set mixed with his vision is what makes him so lethal on the power play."

Dahlin is used to making the short pass to Olofsson, having played with him for two seasons for Frolunda of the Swedish Hockey League. The pair passed back and forth six times on the play that led to Olofsson's tying goal in Columbus on Monday.

Each time he saw Olofsson covered, Dahlin slapped his stick hard on the ice to call for the puck back. He drifted and head-faked toward the other side until a lane finally opened.

Video: BUF@CBJ: Olofsson ties game late with PPG

"Who's got the most time and who's ready to shoot?" Dahlin said. "We want shots on net. That's what I'm looking for."

Krueger has stressed that the Sabres are keeping numbers - be it personal statistics or points in the standings - out of the dressing room. His focus is on keeping players' minds clear and focused on improving each day. 

To that end, Dahlin is more worried about rounding out his own game than his success with the extra man. He was the first one on the ice for practice and the last one off it Thursday after being on for two goals against in the team's win over Montreal on Wednesday. 

He hadn't been on the ice for a five-on-five goal against in the three games prior.

"I think he's looking at the total performance and he wants to be a complete National Hockey League defenseman and he's going to be one with the attitude he has," Krueger said. "Every day, we've got things to work on with him, which is fun because of how coachable he is."

 

Larsson's line continues to set the tone

Peruse the league leaders in five-on-five shot attempts percentage through the first four games of the season and you'll find a trio of Sabres linemates near the top of the list.

Among skaters with at least 10 minutes played at 5-on-5, Kyle Okposo ranks third with a 73.08 percent shot share. Zemgus Girgensons ranks ninth (68.83) and Johan Larsson ranks 16th (67.07). 

Those numbers speak to the time spent in the offensive zone by a trio that Krueger credited with being an example for other lines to follow in terms of how he wants the Sabres to play.

"Larsson, Girgensons, and Okposo have really been somebody we can trust, and we feel comfortable with," Krueger said. "They can play up and down the lines of the opposition. I'm not afraid at all to see them up against anybody because of the work they bring in. 

"They make it hard on anybody they play up against, so they'll be an important line for us moving forward."

Krueger has shown a willingness to call upon that trio late in close games, including when the Canadiens were in the midst of a late push with the game tied on Wednesday. Their ability to forecheck and extend possessions in the offensive zone can wear down opposing players, which can lead to production for the team's other lines. 

"What they also do is soften the D, the opposition D, for other lines to follow and possibly a shift or two later," Krueger explained. "You never know how all that residual work pays off, but I'm sure it does when a line grinds them down 45 seconds. 

"That D pair comes out two later and I look for a certain matchup and I've seen opportunities grow out of that, too. So, it's not always the direct work that has paid off. Sometimes it's indirect."

If they keep playing the way they have been, they should see some production of their own. Though they only have one goal at 5-on-5 - a tip from Okposo against New Jersey on Saturday - the havoc they wreak in front of opposing nets has led to plenty of chances.

According to NaturalStatTrick.com, the Sabres have out-chanced teams 23-7 with Girgensons, Larsson, and Okposo on the ice at 5-on-5.

"Yeah, they definitely deserve more offensive numbers than they've gotten," Krueger said. "They're creating plus scoring chances on a regular basis here and are probably the only line that hasn't had one game where they've slipped a bit."

 

Lines at Thursday's practice

The group remain unchanged from Wednesday's game, with John Gilmour working in as the extra defenseman:

68 Victor Olofsson - 9 Jack Eichel - 23 Sam Reinhart 
28 Zemgus Girgensons - 22 Johan Larsson - 21 Kyle Okposo
53 Jeff Skinner - 90 Marcus Johansson - 17 Vladimir Sobotka
13 Jimmy Vesey - 37 Casey Mittelstadt - 71 Evan Rodrigues

6 Marco Scandella - 10 Henri Jokiharju
19 Jake McCabe - 55 Rasmus Ristolainen 
26 Rasmus Dahlin - 33 Colin Miller
58 John Gilmour

40 Carter Hutton
35 Linus Ullmark

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