RALEIGH, N.C. — The Buffalo Sabres’ power play ranks last in the NHL with a 10.7 percent success rate. They only wish it was clicking that well.
The Sabres enter tonight’s game in Carolina in a 3-for-59 nose-dive with the man-advantage. That equates to only 5 percent during the last 16 games, so 10.7 percent would look pretty good right now.
Though they’ve struggled for much longer than the six games Ron Rolston has been behind the bench, the interim coach absorbed the blame Monday.
“Since I’ve been here, it’s probably more my fault than anybody in a sense that with limited practice time coming in it’s something that we really haven’t put a lot of focus on,” Rolston said from the team hotel after canceling practice. “We’ve had to focus on some other areas to get where we are more structurally, so it’s my job now to make sure we put a lot of emphasis on that.”
The Sabres are likely to work with the unit during the morning skate in PNC Arena before taking on the Hurricanes.
“We’ll look at personnel, and we’ll look at everything we can to make it better,” Rolston said.
The unit could get a boost with the return of leading scorer Thomas Vanek, who is expected back after missing two games with an upper-body injury. But it will take more than one person to get the faltering unit on track.
“We just have to get more pucks on net, and the second opportunities are huge a lot of the times,” defenseman Christian Ehrhoff said. “We get the puck to the net, and the team will get it and throw it down, and we have to start over from scratch. If you get those second opportunities, you get the teams scrambling and stuff will open up for you.
“Obviously, a huge part, too, is net presence. A lot of the time now with goalies being so good, with a clean shot they’ll make the save. You’ve got to get screens so that they don’t see the puck.”
A personnel swap could include Mikhail Grigorenko, who skated with the unit for 1:51 during Sunday’s 3-2 shootout loss to the New York Rangers.
“That was really the first since I’ve been here where he was able to put two in a row together of the same consistency and compete level and the details,” Rolston said. “If he continues to play the way he is, those are possibilities for him.”
Rolston elected not to practice following back-to-back games.
“We thought it was important for the guys to have a day where they could kind of recharge physically, mentally, emotionally to get back to where we needed to be,” he said. “We want to make sure we have the right energy.”
Several players had an off-ice workout, including Vanek and defenseman Jordan Leopold, who will miss his seventh game with an upper-body injury.
“Leo, he’s feeling better,” Rolston said. “He’s making good strides, but he still will probably be a little bit longer.”
Forward Ville Leino, who hasn’t played all season because of a hip injury, is also on the road with the team.
“We want those guys around so they can start getting back into things, getting back into practice situations with the guys,” Rolston said, “so when they’re ready to go there’s a better transition period there.”
Hurricanes goaltender Cam Ward could miss the remainder of the season with a knee injury, the team announced Monday. Ward suffered a third-degree sprain of his medial collateral ligament Sunday and will miss six to eight weeks.
Ward is 9-6-1 with a 2.84 goals-against average and .908 save percentage. Dan Ellis, who is 3-2 with a 2.53 and .923, inherits the crease.
“That’s tough,” Sabres goalie Ryan Miller said. “I don’t know if they’re going to be missing too much. Cam obviously is a big leader for them, but Ellis has played well.”