Numbers may lie at times but this one is pretty glaring: The Buffalo Sabres are 30th in the NHL – as in dead-last – in faceoff percentage through four games. Tyler Ennis lost a draw in his own zone with less than five minutes left Friday and it turned into a game-deciding goal.
“It’s tough. It’s a learning curve,” Ennis said after the 3-1 loss to the Carolina Hurricanes in First Niagara Center. “It’s 10 times as tough when you lose one and it goes in [the net] and you end up losing the game. We have to keep working on it. Maybe my linemates will take a few. I just have to work at it and try my best to improve.”
Ennis was beaten on the draw by Carolina captain Eric Staal, and Jay Harrison’s floater from the point beat Ryan Miller at 15:10 to snap a 1-1 tie.
The Sabres have won just 40.6 percent of their faceoffs thus far (by comparison sake, the top 17 in the NHL are all over 50 percent). They have been overall losers on draws in all four games, including major beatings Friday against the Canes (42-23) and Monday in Toronto (45-19).
“Little things are going to start showing up if we don’t pay attention to them,” Miller said. “We won the draw right before that, and we iced it. Miscommunication on that, then they get a redo. They found a way to get it through some bodies.”
Ennis went just 2-10 Friday and is 22-35 for the season. Cody Hodgson (30-51) had one of his better games by going 10-11. Jochen Hecht (4-11) fell to 13-28 for the season. The only regular draw takers who have a winning percentage are Steve Ott (13-8) and rookie Mikhail Grigorenko (12-11).
Coach Lindy Ruff spent a few minutes Friday morning talking about faceoffs and how his team could improve. Some of it is simple inexperience down the middle, he said. Other parts of the issue are physical, with better leverage needed from the centers and better puck pursuit needed even after a draw may have been lost.
Ruff even went so far as to say the defensive zone draws haven’t become a major issue of turning into goals. But that’s exactly what ended up happening Friday night.
Ennis lost all seven of his draws against Carolina’s Jordan Staal and Jussi Jokinen. He went just 1-3 against Eric Staal, including the loss on the one that produced the game-winning goal.
“I tried to spin on him, create as much space as I could around the puck and squeak through him,” said Ennis, who was cleanly beaten and landed on his knees. “I just have to look at some tape and get better.”
Winger Ville Leino missed his fourth straight game Friday and doesn’t appear any closer to a return. What the team is simply calling a lower-body injury is actually lingering trouble with Leino’s right hip.
Leino had surgery on his left hip following the 2009-10 season that saw him play in the Stanley Cup final with the Philadelphia Flyers, and a report Thursday on CSNPhilly.com said the former Flyer now needs a procedure on the other side.
Both Leino and coach Lindy Ruff denied that’s a possibility at this point, although it’s clear that another offseason surgery might be on the docket.
“There’s no talk about surgery right now. We might as well just squash that,” Ruff said following the Sabres’ optional morning skate. “Maybe down the road it happens. I don’t know. But right now there’s some other treatment options that are possible. We had an MRI on it and it looked OK.”
Leino said in the fall he was in excellent shape after being largely a flop last season, his first of the six-year, $27 million free agent deal he signed in July, 2011. But he left practice early last Friday and has not returned.
“It was weird because we were going hard [at the Northtown Center] with Andrew Peters and skating fine,” Leino said of players-only workouts when the lockout ended. “After the first day, it was a little sore. Next day it was a little sore. Then it got worse and worse. Sometimes it’s tough to tell what it is.
“We’ve been doing rehab trying to get the discomfort away. Today it felt a lot better. Hopefully it will feel better in the long run too. I felt really good today for 20-25 minutes. Then it got a little tired and it’s the best so far.”
Thomas Vanek’s third-period goal allowed him to tie San Jose’s Joe Thornton for the NHL scoring lead with nine points.
According to the Elias Sports Bureau, Vanek entered the game as the first player in Sabres history with eight points in the first three games of a season and joined Brian Campbell (2007) as the only ones to collect nine points in the first four games.
“Thomas is off to one helluva start,” Ruff said. “He’s played awesome.”
Vanek missed some time in the second period after landing hard on his tailbone and back in the Carolina zone. Ruff said he has a mild muscle strain and will probably sit out practice today.
The Sabres had the same scratches as they did Thursday in Carolina – defensemen Mike Weber and T.J. Brennan were healthy, as was forward Matt Ellis.
Leino and winger Cody McCormick remain on injured reserve.