By Mike Harrington
The Sabres' woeful power play has been a major talking point all season but they've scored in five of the last six games and improvement is readily apparent. The penalty kill, however, has taken a huge step backwards at the same time.
Heading into tonight's game against Washington, the Sabres are 27th in the NHL on the PK at 77 percent (Hmmm. A 30th-ranked power play and a 27th-ranked PK unit. That might account for being a non-playoff team). Even worse, Buffalo is 29th on the PK at home at 73.9 percent.
The Capitals, meanwhile, are second in the NHL on the power play at 24.1 percent and tied for second on the road at 22.8. Alexander Ovechkin leads the league in PP goals, with 10 of his 16 coming on man-advantage situations.
Ovechkin has tallied 19 goals and 12 assists in 29 career games against Buffalo, including two goals in two games this season. He's also coming off NHL First Star of the Week honors after piling up five goals and eight points in four games ending Sunday. And he's on a six-game point streak (6g, 4a)
Buffalo has allowed a power goal in four straight games, including two in Thursday's shootout loss in Florida. In that stretch, the Sabres have killed just 11 of 17 penalties. Under interim coach Ron Rolston, they've killed just 49 of 67, a 73.1 percent clip that would put them last in the NHL if it was their season total (Florida is currently last at 74.1).
Opponents seem to control most of the zone time on their power plays, something the Sabres rarely do. Their passes are sharper than Buffalo's too (see Jonathan Huberdeau's tying goal Thursday night), and Ryan Miller hasn't made nearly the number of good saves on the man-advantage situations that he's made on 5-on-5.
"Penalty kill is more just adjusting to what other teams do," said Rolston. "The biggest thing for us is we're giving teams five chances on the power play. That's our biggest problem.
"You look at a lot of these games where these high-powered teams are only getting two power-play chances. That gives you a lot better chance than giving them five cracks at it. And tonight Washington is another one of those teams. You give five or six chances to, you're going to be in trouble at some point."
Point taken. The Sabres have had to kill off five penalties in each of the last two games and 26 in the last seven. That's just far too many.
Mantra for tonight: Stay outta the box.