Four-game losing streak has Sabres near bottom of NHL

Buffalo is in New Jersey for a Saturday afternoon tilt
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By WGR 550 SportsRadio

Buffalo, N.Y. (WGR 550) - If you want to know how badly the Buffalo Sabres' four-game losing streak has taken them out of the race, they can only catch the New York Rangers by winning all their games in-hand.

Buffalo’s points percentage is .385, which is last in the East Division. The top-four teams are the Boston Bruins at .733, the Philadelphia Flyers at .679, the New Jersey Devils at .636 and the Washington Capitals at .633. The New York Islanders are fifth at .594, the Pittsburgh Penguins are sixth at .567 and the Rangers are seventh at .433.

Going into Friday’s games, the Sabres are 28th in the NHL, only leading the Nashville Predators, Detroit Red Wings and Ottawa Senators.

Buffalo only averages 2.31 goals per-game (28th in the NHL), and that’s with the league’s fifth-best power play.

“I’ve always found the power play is the driver of the offensive part of the group, because your elite players get their confidence on the power play, and usually that carries onto our 5-on-5 game," said Sabres head coach Ralph Krueger after Friday's practice in New Jersey. "This is one of the first times as a coach I’ve seen that kind of control, that kind of domination, and that kind of confidence on the power play not showing up at all in our 5-on-5 game. I’ll be really honest with everybody, that I’m trying to figure that out.”

The Sabres have done so much better on special teams this season. They started this week in the top-10 in both power play and penalty killing. I thought, for sure, if they could do just that, they would either be in the playoffs or right on the brink. However, they’re no better than they were before Jack Eichel was drafted.

It’s not hard to figure out why the Sabres don’t win. Jeff Skinner, Cody Eakin, Kyle Okposo, Tage Thompson and Brandon Montour have as many goals this season combined as Terry and Kim Pegula have.

Eichel has no goals in five games. Taylor Hall has one goal all season and hasn’t scored in 12 games. Sam Reinhart has one goal in eight games. Eric Staal has one goal in seven games.

“For offensive players, sometimes you try to do too much or you’re guilty of extending shifts or making plays that aren’t there,” Staal said after Friday's practice.

"There's definitely some fragility there when teams are not finding success. And when a lot of your top guys are pressing to score, it can be difficult. ... There's guys pressing, guys that want it real bad, but there's a simpler way we can get there. Hopefully, that starts tomorrow.”

The only player scoring is Victor Olofsson, who has three goals in five games and points in eight out of nine.

Krueger said defensively, the players are doing well and are not a fragile group.

"When we speak about fragile, we’re speaking about those final percentage points that separate the top scorers from the average players in the league," he said.

“We’ve got elite players in the group that in that final context of the game, they’re fragile right now. They don’t believe in themselves and they don’t see themselves celebrating. They see themselves missing the net, not finding the hole between the legs that they usually find.”

Linus Ullmark has given up three goals in six of his eight starts this season.

The Sabres split two games with New Jersey in Buffalo, winning 4-3 in a shootout and losing 5-3. The good news is in the two games, the Sabres scored five goals. The problem is they gave up eight.

New Jersey is a surprising 6-3-2 under its new coach, Lindy Ruff. The Devils have won three straight games and have points in four in a row.

Jack Hughes leads the team in scoring with nine points in 11 games. Miles Wood has five goals.

Mackenzie Blackwood missed some time in goal due to COVID-19, but he’s back and is 4-0-1 with a 1.94 goals-against average and a .945 save percentage. Blackwood has only played against the Bruins and the Rangers this season, going 2-0-1 against Boston. The Devils rank seventh in the NHL with a team goals-against average of 2.55.

It’s a little strange the Devils have done so well, because their penalty killing is awful. They’re an NHL-worst 64.9%. The Devils' power play isn’t much better at 12.5%, which is 26th overall.

Join Brian Koziol on Saturday morning for pregame coverage starting at 11:30 a.m. EST, when he’ll be joined by Krueger, Staal and Jake McCabe.

***Photo: Buffalo Sabres (@BuffaloSabres)