This was a night for the Buffalo Sabres’ pop-gun power play to fatten up its stats as the Winnipeg Jets hit town with the NHL’s worst penalty-killing unit.
Didn’t matter. The Sabres rung up another 0-for-3 night, including a failure inside the final four minutes, and it was another head-scratching element to their 2-1 loss.
The Sabres have dropped to 29th in the NHL at 12.9 percent, scoring on just 8-of-62 chances this season. They are a woeful 2 for 37 with the man advantage over the last 10 games.
Coach Lindy Ruff tried a new approach Tuesday, putting defenseman and power-play specialist T.J. Brennan back into the lineup. It didn’t have much impact. Brennan had four shots on goal in the game but also fired wide on a couple of occasions.
“It’s a lot to lump on a young player like T.J. to sit over there and try to run it,” Ruff said. “But that’s where I put him and that’s where he’s been best at. It’s not an easy job. He had a couple good looks but again we weren’t good enough.”
Brennan had 14 goals and 35 points in 36 games this year in Rochester but has no points in six games with the Sabres.
“They did a good job on their PK but our effort wasn’t acceptable,” Brennan said. “We still have to do a better job retrieving pucks and getting set up. It’s about outworking them on the power play. We have an extra man and we have to take advantage of that.”
The Sabres have struggled in several areas on the power play. Ruff and the players have talked about their struggles retrieving the puck deep in the offensive zone after shoot-ins. Entering the zone has also been an issue, although there was some improvement in that area Tuesday.
“I thought we got in cleaner,” said center Tyler Ennis. “But once we get in, we have to do a better job of supporting, setting it up from there and calming the puck down in their zone.”
Buffalo had a good chance at the tying goal after Evander Kane took a high sticking penalty with 3:59 left. It was mostly a disaster. Ruff bemoaned back-to-back faceoffs they lost early that allowed the Jets to clear. Brennan shot wide. Nathan Gerbe had the only shot on goal.
The Jets’ PK unit has been better lately, killing 16 of 20 chances the last seven games after a three-game run where they were just 8 for 16.
“We’ve kind of turned that around lately,” said Winnipeg winger Andrew Ladd. “It’s been a big thing and its going to be a big thing going forward.”
Veteran defenseman Jordan Leopold has only one goal, is minus-7 for the season and has been victimized time after time in his own zone. Ruff finally ran out of patience with Leopold, scratching the 32-year-old for the first time in his three-year run with Buffalo.
“I just haven’t got off to a good start,” Leopold said. “I’m trying to keep the confidence up, trying to get into plays, trying to make things. It’s the little things, not big things that have been getting me a little bit. It’s not the first time I’ve sat and watched a game. You learn from it. It creates a fire underneath you and urgency to get better.”
The breaking point came Sunday against Pittsburgh, when Leopold was caught in no-man’s land on the Penguins’ tying goal midway through the third period. He didn’t block a cross-ice pass from Kris Letang and didn’t take out Pascual Dupuis, who beat Ryan Miller on a one-timer from the right circle.
“That’s an easy read for me,” said Leopold, as former Penguin. “Having that one sneak by, there’s nobody to fault but myself. You look at it and learn from it. Lindy’s got to make his choices with lineup.
“I’ve played a lot of games in this league, a lot of games against that team and with that team particularly [in 2009] and I know those types of plays what they’re looking for. It’s just a blown coverage.”
Ruff admitted the Dupuis play loomed large in his mind.
“I expect more out of him. I expect more out of a veteran defenseman,” Ruff said. “He’s going to have to work hard to get back in now.”
Rookie Mikhail Grigorenko was a scratch for the second straight game and the third time this year. ... Jason Pominville’s goal snapped a six-game pointless streak, tied for longest in his career. ... Tuesday was the anniversary of two Sabres’ milestone goals. On Feb. 19, 1984, Bill Hajt scored the franchise’s 4,000th goal and on Feb. 19, 1991, Christian Ruuttu scored No. 6,000. The Sabres are at 10,920. ... Bryan Little of the Jets had seven points in four games against the Sabres last year.