OTTAWA – Lindy Ruff and assistant coaches James Patrick and Kevyn Adams had solid, lengthy NHL careers. They were not snipers, however. They combined for 313 goals in 2,511 games, which works out to a goal every eight outings or so.
That didn’t stop Ruff from joking the trio might provide scoring punch to the struggling Buffalo Sabres.
Ruff, Patrick and Adams spent much of Monday’s practice in First Niagara Center anchoring a power play. So after the extended workout, is the trio ready to play on the road against the Ottawa Senators tonight?
“We might have to,” Ruff said.
There are plenty of “secondary scorers” who would be candidates to come out. Drew Stafford, Jochen Hecht and Nathan Gerbe are among the Sabres still looking for their first goal. Marcus Foligno, Steve Ott and Mihkail Grigorenko head another lengthy list of players who have only one.
“That’s our biggest issue right now,” Ott said. “Our second, third and fourth line have not produced at all.”
The Sabres will enter Scotiabank Place having won just one of their last seven games. Though they’ve also been a mess defensively, the inability to complement the torrid scoring pace set by Thomas Vanek, Jason Pominville and Cody Hodgson is the main reason for their losing skid.
Buffalo needs more scorers, plain and simple.
“It needs to happen, and it needs to happen right now,” Stafford said before flying to Canada’s capital.
Ruff had a one-on-one chat with Stafford and showed video to other players. The message was about scoring and burying chances.
“If you look at some of the point-blank opportunities, I would shake my head,” Ruff said. “I’m a little in disbelief.”
He’s not alone. Most of the Sabres have shown the ability to score in the past, but they’re all in a drought. Of Buffalo’s 27 goals, 18 have come from Vanek, Pominville and Hodgson.
“You do well and you lose games, it doesn’t feel good,” said Vanek, who was named the NHL’s First Star of the Week for putting up five goals and 10 points in four games.
Advancements in technology have allowed coaches to chart and map out scoring areas. Ruff doesn’t see his players getting there, particularly Stafford.
“You’ve got to get in that prime area, that little square area in front of the net,” Ruff said. “You can’t go by the net. You’ve got to stop around the net, and there’s a few situations where the puck’s gone to the net and he’s watching and going wide where we’ve got to go inside.
“We have something special that we have a line that, as they say in Spanish, en fuego [on fire]. Everybody else would be jealous of that line right now. But now we don’t have the secondary, so we’re jealous of the secondary around the league.”
The inability to stop opponents is another cause for concern.
The Sabres have allowed 18 goals in the last four games, including the final three Sunday as Florida rallied for a 4-3 victory.
“We have some things to clean up,” defenseman Tyler Myers said. “A 3-1 lead, there’s a way you have to play, and we gave up too much to let them get back in the game.”
The Sabres likely will alter their defense tonight. They have recalled Adam Pardy from Rochester, though it’s unclear who will come out of the lineup.
Pardy, acquired from Dallas over the summer and waived at the end of training camp, had one goal, three points and a plus-3 rating in five games with the Amerks.
The 6-foot-4, 226-pounder has played in 183 NHL games with Calgary and the Stars.
There’s a chance defenseman Christian Ehrhoff could miss the game. Five players skipped Monday’s optional practice – Pominville, Hodgson, Hecht, Ott and Ehrhoff – and Ruff said there are “a couple guys that are nicked up that may be doubtful.”
Only Ott missed time Sunday, sitting for the final seven minutes.
Whoever plays needs to help the Vanek line at both end of the ice.
“We’ve got to start winning some games,” Hecht said. “We can’t rely on Thomas, Pommer and Cody scoring every night. We need all four lines to contribute.
“So far, it’s only that line that’s done the damage in the games. It’s up to the other lines to come forward.”