In search of: Team needs to win on the road

The Buffalo News - - NHL - By Lance Lysowski

If the Buf­falo Sabres are to make an un­prece­dented run to snap their eight-year play­off drought, they will have to fig­ure out how to win away from KeyBank Cen­ter.

Eight of their fi­nal 16 games are on the road, be­gin­ning with a two-game trip to Chicago and Den­ver. The Sabres (30-28-8) will face the Blackhawks (27-309) Thurs­day night in the United Cen­ter, fol­lowed by a Satur­day af­ter­noon game against the Colorado Avalanche.

Nei­ther op­po­nent is oc­cu­py­ing a play­off spot. How­ever, the Sabres have gone 3-14-3 in their last 20 games away from Buf­falo, in­clud­ing seven con­sec­u­tive losses. They haven’t won a road game since Jan. 29 in Colum­bus.

“It goes back to sim­pli­fy­ing our game and play­ing a sim­ple road game,” Hous­ley said fol­low­ing the Sabres’ prac­tice Wed­nes­day in KeyBank Cen­ter. “Some­times that’s just re­liev­ing pres­sure out of our de­fen­sive zone and get­ting pucks out. Man­ag­ing pucks through the neu­tral zone and get­ting pucks in, try­ing to es­tab­lish our forecheck and I think the sim­pli­fi­ca­tion of our game. Again, we talked when we don’t have the puck, just hav­ing our guard up.”

En­ter­ing Wed­nes­day’s games, the Sabres’ power play at home ranked 10th in the NHL, com­pared to 26th on the road. They have posted a mi­nus-26 goal dif­fer­en­tial over their last 20 road games, al­low­ing four or more goals 12 times.

The Sabres had a pair of epic melt­downs in Toronto last week, al­low­ing three goals in a span of two min­utes, four sec­onds dur­ing a 5-3 loss Mon­day and sur­ren­der­ing four unan­swered goals in a 5-2 de­feat Satur­day.

Buf­falo’s 26 points on the road were the third-fewest in the NHL en­ter­ing Wed­nes­day, while its 19 home wins were tied with Mon­treal and Wash­ing­ton for the fifth-most in the East­ern Con­fer­ence.

De­fen­sive struggles and prob­lems with puck man­age­ment have been mag­ni­fied when the op­po­nent has a num­ber of ad­van­tages, in­clud­ing the last line change and crowd noise.

“I think it’s just one of those things that varies,” de­fense­man Zach Bo­gosian said of the Sabres’ de­te­ri­o­rat­ing road per­for­mance. “We’ve played some good road games and some not-so-good ones. I don’t know if I can re­ally pin­point one thing. Know­ing that maybe the other team has last change at home, mak­ing sure puck man­age­ment and get­ting pucks deep. Teams thrive on turnovers, es­pe­cially at home when their crowd gets into it. Puck man­age­ment would prob­a­bly be the num­ber one thing.”

While nei­ther Hous­ley nor his play­ers could iden­tify one spe­cific thread, they agreed the lack of at­ten­tion to de­tail has been the Sabres’ down­fall, whether it’s tak­ing a bad penalty in the first pe­riod or a missed de­fen­sive cov­er­age.

The Blackhawks en­tered Wed­nes­day nine points back of the sec­ond wild-card play­off spot, but Patrick Kane is in the Hart Tro­phy con­ver­sa­tion. Chicago de­feated the Sabres, 7-3, in Buf­falo last month.

Ad­di­tion­ally, the Avalanche (29-26-12) beat the Sabres, 6-1, in Oc­to­ber and are two points be­hind Min­nesota for eighth in the West­ern Con­fer­ence. Rather than dis­cussing their road struggles, the Sabres are fo­cused on clean­ing up the myr­iad of er­rors that have caused them to tum­ble down the stand­ings.

“We’ve been good at times,” Ja­son Pom­inville said. “At times, again, we get away from what leads to us be­ing a good team. I don’t know. I wouldn’t even be able to tell you what our away record is right now. It’s not some­thing that we tend to say, ‘Oh, we’re go­ing on the road, we haven’t been good on the road.’ We just go out there, try to play and bring the best ver­sion of our­selves. Do that to help the team in any cir­cum­stance.”

Bo­gosian and for­ward Vladimir Sobotka re­turned to prac­tice Wed­nes­day and could be avail­able to play Thurs­day night in Chicago.

Bo­gosian was a late scratch Mon­day against Ed­mon­ton be­cause of a lower-body in­jury, while Sobotka has missed the past three games with a lower­body in­jury. Their re­turns likely will draw Jo­han Lars­son and Casey Nel­son out of the Sabres’ lineup.

“We’ll see how they re­spond from prac­tice,” Hous­ley said Wed­nes­day. “Both of them looked very good out there, but we’ll make that de­ci­sion to­mor­row.”

Rochester winger Remi Elie was sus­pended one game by the AHL for an il­le­gal check to the head dur­ing the Amerks’ 4-1 loss to Syra­cuse on Sun­day.

Elie, who has five goals among eight points in 10 games since join­ing the Amerks, will sit Fri­day night against Bridgeport.

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