The Buffalo Sabres practiced their power play Thursday.
“Is that surprising?” interim coach Ron Rolston said with a grin.
No, it’s not a shock the NHL’s last-place unit spent a significant portion of the workout trying to improve.
The Sabres have struggled with the man advantage since the second game of the season. They went 3 for 6 against Philadelphia in the opener, but since then they are connecting at 8.3 percent (8 for 92). In the past 20 games, they have stumbled along at 6.9 percent (5 for 73).
“We tried different units, different entries, and we haven’t found something that’s worked yet,” left wing Thomas Vanek said in First Niagara Center.
Rolston assembled new units ahead of Saturday’s visit by Ottawa. The first group featured Vanek, Tyler Ennis and Cody Hodgson up front, with Jason Pominville and Christian Ehrhoff at the point. Steve Ott, Drew Stafford and Ville Leino skated as the forwards on the second unit, with Tyler Myers and Jordan Leopold at the blue line.
“We’re definitely improving on it,” Hodgson said. “I know it doesn’t look like it, but we’re making strides.
“If you break down the power play into different sections, you’ve got your entries, you’ve got the setup, player and puck movement, and getting shots. We’re getting two or three of those one game, and it’s just not all clicking together. It’s going to all fall into place because it hasn’t always been the same problems every time.”
Hodgson lamented two open nets he missed Tuesday against the New York Rangers. The Sabres went 0 for 6 and allowed their NHL-worst fifth short-handed goal.
“Really right now is more just the momentum for me,” Rolston said. “If we go 0 for 6 in a game but keep the momentum and get some chances on it, and the next line out feels good about it and we can go from there, I’m fine with that. ... But when your team loses the momentum, then that obviously affects the rest of not only your team but the players who are on the power play.”
Alexander Sulzer is done for the season after undergoing surgery Monday on the anterior cruciate ligament in his right knee. The defenseman was hurt on a hit by the New York Islanders’ Colin McDonald on Feb. 23.
“There’s so much swelling early on that it’s hard to diagnose early how damaged it is,” Rolston said, “but it was successful and he’s on the recovery path right now.”
Normal recovery from ACL surgery is about one year. The 28-year-old Sulzer will be an unrestricted free agent this summer after signing a one-year, $725,000 contract.
The Sabres appear set to welcome back three players when they face the Senators. Goaltender Ryan Miller is better after sitting one game with a sinus infection. Rolston said Ennis is a “strong possibility” after missing a game with a head injury, while Leino is “highly likely” to make his season debut after sitting with a hip ailment.
The Sabres are at the 23-man roster limit and will need to make a move in order to activate Leino on Saturday. The only players who can be sent to Rochester without waivers are rookie forwards Brian Flynn and Marcus Foligno. Any other player will need to be placed on waivers at noon today.
“It’ll probably be difficult, which is good because when you get to the point that you have to make difficult decisions it’s good for your team,” said Rolston, who will consult with General Manager Darcy Regier on the course of action, which could also include a trade.
Ennis has stitches in the middle of his forehead after getting hit from behind Sunday by Philadelphia’s Wayne Simmonds, who was not penalized.
“I thought it was dirty,” Ennis said. “I feel like he was on my numbers the whole time, and I feel like he kind of launched into me.
“I have no problem if I turn and get hit and it’s my fault. I’ll accept that. That particular time, I felt it was not the best play by him. I wish he got suspended or fined or something. I wasn’t happy with it.”