OPINION: Three observations: Sabres struggle again at even strength

Buffalo gets shut out for the third straight game at 5-on-5, and simple mistakes lead to Capitals chances
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By WGR 550 SportsRadio

The Buffalo Sabres traveled to Washington, D.C. looking for their first win since coming back from their two weeks off due to their COVID-19 outbreak. Unfortunately, the Washington Capitals were ready for them.

The Capitals broke through late in the first period with a power play goal from Nicklas Backstrom, and they never looked back from there in a 3-1 win at Capital One Arena.

Buffalo drops their fourth-straight game, and goes a third-straight game without scoring at even strength.

Let's take a look at three observations from the game:

1.) Buffalo shut out at even strength once again

Missed shots. Blocked shots. Posts. No goals.

The Sabres could not buy a goal at 5-on-5 on Thursday night.

Sam Reinhart had a chance early against Capitals goaltender Vitek Vanecek that hit the post. Jeff Skinner came back on the next shift and had a great chance as well, but once again, the post got in the way.

Last game, one of our observations was that the luck simply wasn't going the Sabres' way. That continues to be the case in that regard, but eventually, luck will no longer be a good enough excuse.

With the short season, the luck has to change quickly.

2.) Olofsson continues to stay hot on the power play

Victor Olofsson has been one of hotter Sabres players with the man advantage this season. With his power play goal in the third period, Olofsson now has six goals on the season, with five of those coming on the power play. Olofsson has also chipped in five assists.

Olofsson's game, in general, has picked up this year. His passing has improved, and he's even getting some chances at even strength. For whatever reason, he can't get those chances to go, whether he misses the net, hits the post, or something that just doesn't result in a goal.

On the power play, Olofsson is practically unstoppable. He's picked up, at least, a point on the power play in seven of the last eight games.

3.) Sabres still missing some key players

For the first time since Feb. 1, the Sabres have zero players on the NHL's COVID-19 Protocols list, but they're still waiting for some important players to return to the lineup.

Sabres defenseman Rasmus Ristolainen did not make the trip to D.C., as the team is showing some caution with his current condition. While it has not been confirmed that Ristolainen tested positive for COVID-19, the Sabres seem to be indicating that he did have a bout with the virus.

Prior to coming out of the lineup, Ristolainen was one of the Sabres' better defenders along with his partner Jake McCabe, who made his return to the lineup on Tuesday night.

Ristolainen has scored two goals, along with six points, and has a 60.94 goals for percentage in his 10 games this season. His expected goals for percentage is 57.09%, so while he's slightly outperforming that metric, he's still been a solid defender for Buffalo since the start of the season.

The Sabres will need him to come back and play at a similar level if they hope to get back on track.

Buffalo also await the return of rookie forward Dylan Cozens. While he's only scored a couple of goals in nine games, Cozens has looked like a player who has more than belonged at the pro level through his first NHL games.

It will be interesting to see how Sabres head coach Ralph Krueger inserts him back in to the lineup.

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The Sabres will have a night off from game action before they're back at it on Saturday afternoon as they head to Newark to take on the New Jersey Devils at the Prudential Center.

Puck drop takes place at 12:30 p.m. EST on Saturday afternoon. You can hear the entire broadcast, along with the Paul WIlliam Beltz Pregame Show with Brian Koziol, starting at 11:30 a.m. EST on the radio home of the Sabres - WGR Sports Radio 550.

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