Sabres need to play dirtier to generate better scoring chances

Sabres head coach Phil Housley shuffled things up at practice on Wednesday

Brayton Wilson
November 29, 2017 - 2:37 pm

Photo: Kevin Hoffman - USA TODAY Sports


It has been over 120 minutes since the Buffalo Sabres have last scored a goal. After beating the Edmonton Oilers on Friday night at KeyBank Center, the Sabres have been shutout in two consecutive games. The first coming against Carey Price and the Montreal Canadiens on Saturday night, and the most recent one on Tuesday against Andrei Vasilevskiy and the Tampa Bay Lightning.

While the Sabres have generated a combined 70 shots on goal over the past two games, Phil Housley emphasized that his team is not getting to the net enough to make things difficult for the opposing goalie.

"When you look at out game last night, we out-chanced Tampa, we out-shot Tampa," Housley said with Howard Simon and Jeremy White on Wednesday on WGR. "There's a lot of good indications that are pointing in the right direction, but the bottom line is we're not scoring. So how are we going to score goals? That's more about going to the tough areas, taking a whack and scoring a dirty goal. We've ran into two hot goaltenders. Carey Price had a great game against us in Montreal, and Vasilevskiy made the right saves at the key moments of the game... For us to get out of this, it's just going to take hard work. We're going to have a good practice today, work on the areas we need to improve on and it needs to start there as we move forward.

"We're going to have to try to create more [scoring opportunities]. Just when we think we're getting pointed in the wrong direction after the win against Edmonton; I believe we threw everything at Carey Price. Could we have made it ore difficult in front of him? Yes. Last night, we have chances and we're having shots, but an area we need to address is trying to get to the net better. Because it's a traffic area, it requires a little bit of courage, and we're going to have to battle in practice to try and get these guys moving in that direction."

At practice on Wednesday, that was the exact message Housley and Sabres coaching staff tried to send. Housley also switched up the lines a bit to see what he can generate on offense:

Wednesday's lines:

Kane - Eichel - Pominville

Nolan - O’Reilly - Okposo

Pouliot - Criscuolo - Moulson

Girgensons - Larsson - Reinhart


Beaulieu - Bogosian

McCabe - Antipin

Scandella - Falk


Defenseman Rasmus Ristolainen and Josh Gorges did not practice on Wednesday as they were given maintenance days.

Housley and assistant coach Tom Ward were quite vocal at practice, yelling at players to get to the net and get in front of the goalie.

One player who understands that message is Sabres forward, Jordan Nolan. He was moved up to the second line on Wednesday to play along with Ryan O'Reilly and Kyle Okposo. His main obligation on that line is to get to the net and create havoc for the goaltender, which will hopefully lead to more goalies not getting clear lanes to see the shot on goal.

"I think we need a better net presence, I think we need to start throwing more pucks there," Nolan said. "I think the [defense] has to get pucks through, and everyone's gotta do a better job. We're not getting too many dirty goals these days. Unless you're a Tampa or a top-skilled team, you're not going to get too many back-door tap-ins. I think we have to play a bit dirtier."

The Sabres have been generating some good chances during the two-game scoreless drought, but often times the team did not do enough to make the goalie uncomfortable in his crease. There are too many instances where players are in decent areas to get a rebound, but when a goalie can see the shot coming from a mile away, it is easier for them to take away those second chance opportunities. Having somebody in front of the goalie may give the goalie a hard time seeing the initial shot, which can lead to more goals or rebounds for others to clean up and take advantage on

"It's good to have a good net presence," Nolan said. "You need a good high guy so when that [defenseman] throws the puck [to the net], you have a guy screening and then two other guys flood in for the rebounds. When you have a presence and a mindset of throwing pucks there and competing around the net, I think things will start working out for us. Right now, not to say that we're not doing that, we need to be more detailed on taking the goalie's eyes away and putting those rebounds in."

Nolan's linemate, Kyle Okposo has been in a season-long slump with just three goals in 23 games this season. He will be one of those players looking for an opportunity to cash in on more scoring chances in front of the net as a result of that net front presence. 

However, the Sabres have not been generating some other quality scoring chances around the ice. On Tuesday, the Sabres generated a lot of their scoring chances from the beyond the back of the faceoff circle. Buffalo has been finding it tough to create more scoring chances in the close-knit danger areas around the net, and Okposo knows there has to be more of those chances as well.

"I think it's making little 10-foot plays and winning battles," Okposo said. "I think it comes down to winning battles in the corner, beating the guy and taking the puck to the net. It's going to draw the defenders, then you can make plays through them or around them and open up lanes for your teammates. I don't think we have enough of that going on."

The Sabres will return to the ice on Thursday for practice before facing Pittsburgh in the first game of a home-and-home series with the Penguins. Faceoff at KeyBank Center is scheduled for 7 p.m.

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