By Mike Harrington
This is a night the Sabres' power play needs to fatten up its stats. The Winnipeg Jets come into First Niagara Center tonight dead last in the NHL in penalty killing at a pathetic 65.9 percent (no other team is below 72.9).
Of course, the Sabres are hardly world-beaters with the man-advantage, scoring at a 13.6 percent clip that's just 26th in the NHL. And they're just 2 for 34 in the last nine games. Yikes.
So defenseman T.J. Brennan, a power-play specialist, is back in the lineup and Marcus Foligno will return to do the dirty work with a No. 1 unit that will now consist of Foligno-Tyler Ennis-Thomas Vanek up front with Brennan and Jason Pominville at the points.
Brennan has no points in five games this year and has been a healthy scratch for the last four. He had three four shots on goal in the Feb. 5 loss at Ottawa, three in the Feb. 7 shootout win over Montreal and none two nights later on Long Island, where he missed some chances. He hasn't played since.
Brennan has struggled keeping his shots on the net. If he can't hit the net, his purpose for being on the unit is essentially lost.
"It was one thing I really wish I've capitalized on," he said. "The good thing is that chances were there and now I'm just waiting for the next opportunity. I've been thinking about that game, made my peace with it. I've just got to capitalized when those chances come again."
Said coach Lindy Ruff: "This is where the preparation he's had and the opportunity collide and he's got to take advantage of it."
Foligno said the Sabres need more energy on the power play, particularly on their puck retrievals in the offensive zone. It's been far too easy of late for opponents to collect Buffalo's shoot-ins and simply fire them back down the ice. He said Brennan's shot from the point can be another real weapon.
"He's got an unbelievable shot, one of the hardest I've ever seen," Foligno said. "He's really good on that side of the ice. He's mobile, can get into the open spots. When guys throw it over there really quick, he can get it off. He scored a lot in Rochester (14 goals, 35 points in 36 games) and there's no doubt in my mind he can bring that to this team."
And as for taking advantage of the Jets' PK unit -- which gave up eight power-play goals in one three-game stretch earlier in the year -- Brennan said the Sabres still have to put in the work.
"You never know. It's a funny league," he said. "You can't take anyone lightly, especially the way our power play has been going. We just have to simplify, keep working hard. We have the extra guy. If we work as hard as we do, we'll come out with a goal."
Click below for audio from Brennan's chat with reporters today: