Drew Stafford’s goal is to stay upbeat. So far, it’s the only goal he’s got.
Stafford is in the worst slump of his career. The drought has come when the Buffalo Sabres could really use his help. As the team dwells near the basement of the NHL, Stafford has a zero in the goal column.
In a twist, the doughnut is eating him. The right winger is saying all the right things, but it’s obvious the lack of production weighs heavily. It’s evident in his body language and the forced grin mixed with grimace that accompanies his words.
“It’s hard not to let the negativity creep in there, the body language,” Stafford said Thursday. “It’s tough, but you’ve got to nip it in the bud right away and get back to work. That’s what I’ve been trying to do.”
Stafford has gone 17 games without a goal, including all 14 this season, as the Sabres welcome Boston back to First Niagara Center tonight. It’s really nothing new. He’s had plenty of droughts in his seven-year career. He’s gone five games or more without a goal 25 times, including 16- and 15-game slumps in 2008-09.
Last season, he had six disappearing acts. He suffered through a 13-game famine from November to December and also experienced three seven-game slides, a six-gamer and one five-game drought.
It’s likely none have been as frustrating as this one.
The 27-year-old alternate captain hoped he was past this type of thing. So did the Sabres, who gave him a four-year, $16 million deal prior to last season.
“I’m just trying to stick with it, stay positive and continue to work,” Stafford said. “It’s one of those things where if you continue to get frustrated, let negativity creep into your game, creep into your life, it makes it that much harder. It’s obviously very difficult, especially when you’re losing as well.”
Stafford’s frustration came to the forefront Tuesday during Buffalo’s 2-0 loss in Ottawa. He called for the puck on an odd-man rush, received a perfect cross-ice pass, looked at the empty net ... and fanned on the shot.
Stafford paused in disbelief and muttered to himself before following the play to the other end. After the whistle, he slowly trudged to the bench. Once he arrived, he put his head down on the boards in anguish.
“It’s been how many games, you know?” he said with a shoulder shrug and pained smile. “It’s frustrating. That’s a golden opportunity, golden chance.”
Stafford has had plenty of chances. He has 40 shots, which put him in the top 30 in the NHL entering Thursday’s schedule. Everyone in the top 65 had scored, except him.
“It’s tough, obviously, the situation that he’s in,” linemate Marcus Foligno said. “He’s all around the net. There’s no shortage of that. When he gets one, I’m sure there’ll be plenty more coming after it.”
Tyler Ennis, the center for Stafford and Foligno, says he’s impressed by the right winger’s effort and positive attitude. Like Foligno, Ennis sees one goal leading to more.
Now it’s up to Stafford to see it. He spent the team’s off day Wednesday with his fiancée and their dog, just trying to forget about hockey and slumps. He hopes the recharge time will allow his brain to clear.
“It’s the hardest thing in the world, but it’s part of the job,” Stafford said. “It’s part of being a professional hockey player. You have to deal with stuff like that.
“You can’t show up to the rink the next day and be moping around because that just brings everyone else down. It’s times like these that a good thing I like to say is, ‘The game reveals your character.’
“Good or bad, you always have to make sure that you’re always having the right attitude because guys feed off that. The streak that I’m on here that I haven’t scored, if I’m moping around the locker room that’s just bringing other guys down. It’s part of my role, as well, as a leader on this team to bring that attitude and bring that work habit where I have to show up and continue to get better.”
Drew Stafford has had many goal-less slumps during his seven-year career, but he’s in the midst of his longest ever.
17 April 3, 2012 – present
16 Feb. 6 – April 3, 2010
15 Nov. 28 – Dec. 26, 2009
13 Nov. 5 – Dec. 3, 2011
11 Oct. 25 – Nov. 26, 2008