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Sabres seek simplicity on power play following loss to Sharks

by Jourdon LaBarber @jourdonlabarber /

SAN JOSE - Through the first six games of their season, the San Jose Sharks scored two power-play goals on 21 attempts, a 9.5-percent success rate. 

They exorcised those demons early in their game against the Sabres on Thursday. Kyle Okposo was assessed a double-minor for high-sticking at the 1:45 mark of the first period, and the Sharks responded with a pair of power-play goals from Joonas Donskoi and Logan Couture.

They did it by getting bodies and pucks to the net. Donskoi's goal bounced in off his chest after Carter Hutton made a blocker save on an initial shot; Couture took advantage of a net-front screen. 

It's the same recipe Sabres coach Phil Housley said his team needs to follow to put their own power-play struggles behind them after going 0-for-5 in a 5-1 loss.

"We had key times in the game where our power play could have shined, and we didn't execute," Housley said. "I think one of the things that we have to get back is just shooting pucks and keeping it simple. I mean, that's really all they did. They just tried to get the puck to the net."

Video: Condensed Game: Sabres @ Sharks

The Sabres were able to score with the extra man in Arizona on Saturday with a tic-tac-toe play down low between Jack Eichel, Sam Reinhart and Conor Sheary. It's a play that has created one-time attempts for Sheary on multiple occasions already this season, including a goal at home against New York.

The fact that it's worked in the past also means it's been seen on film, a point Housley emphasized. Opening those plays up, he said, begins with taking shots when they're available.  

"You get into ruts like this and you have to just shoot pucks," Okposo said. "You have to go back to fundamentals. Pucks to the net, pucks to the net, pucks to the net. You have to go back to volume, volume, volume. And then the back-door plays and the seam plays, all that stuff comes."

The Sabres responded well to the early deficit through two periods at even strength, pulling within a goal when Jake McCabe scored with 18:25 still to play in the second. That goal, too, was an example of the good things that come with net-front presence. Jeff Skinner set a crossing screen on a Rasmus Dahlin shot, then passed the rebound to McCabe in the left circle. 

Video: BUF@SJS: McCabe nets sharp-angle goal

"We've been trying to get pucks to the blue and get bodies there," McCabe said. "That's exactly what happened. [Dahlin] got a puck to the net and it squirted out."

They carried the one-goal deficit into the second intermission but deviated from their game plan in the third. Hutton helped them survive as turnovers became more frequent, until the Sharks extended their lead on Couture's second goal of the game with 15:05 remaining. 

Joe Pavelski added a third power-play goal later in the period and Couture capped the scoring with an empty-netter to complete the hat trick. 

"We left Hutts out to dry there," defenseman Zach Bogosian said. "You get down a few goals, you're trying to force things and I think it's not the way we need to play. We've got to stay the course. When you're forcing things, trying to make plays from the D-zone, you're going to get into some trouble."

"I thought at times we just forced things," Housley added. "Our execution from the top of circles to the red line, we're forcing things there. We've just got to keep it more simple. Especially on the road here, when you're down by one or two, because there's an opportunity to still come back in the game."

It certainly wasn't for a lack of effort. McCabe blocked five shots and Bogosian blocked eight, and both players were at the center of a short but heated brawl after time expired.

"I think it's just the fire we need the entire game," McCabe said. "… When special teams are struggling as much as it is, and power play is struggling, you've got to go back to work and go back to simplicity. Look at their power play, it was nothing special. 

"They're getting pucks to the net, bodies to the net, and it creates chaos and it's tough to defend. We've got a short turnaround here. We've got a couple games coming up to salvage this road trip."


Up next

The Sabres have two games remaining on their West Coast swing, with a visit to Los Angeles on Saturday up next. Coverage on MSG-B begins at 3 p.m. with the GMC Game Night Pregame Show, or you can listen live on WGR 550. The puck drops at 3:30.

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