MONTREAL — The Buffalo Sabres might be the worst offensive team in the history of the NHL, so there’s plenty of blame to go around when it comes to lack of scoring.
Just ask Ville Leino.
Leino is the poster boy for Buffalo’s ineptitude with no goals in 51 games, including Tuesday’s 2-0 loss to Montreal. It’s been an utterly forgettable season for him, but he was quick to point out he’s not in it alone.
“I’m sure it weighs on me, too, but obviously there’s a lot of other guys on the team, too, that hasn’t been able to really help that much, either,” Leino said in Bell Centre.
The Sabres have just three double-digit scorers - Tyler Ennis (19), Cody Hodgson (16) and Drew Stafford (15) - so Leino is right. But guys such as Brian Flynn and Matt D’Agostini aren’t expected to be top-line point-producers. Leino, who makes $4.5 million per season, is supposed to score and help others do it.
“I’ll just try to make plays, work hard and try to create some offense, create some chances,” Leino said. “That’s my game. I can’t be anyone else.”
He’s certainly not what Buffalo expected when it signed him to a six-year, $27 million contract in 2011. Because of his paltry numbers and team status - he skated on the fourth line against the Canadiens after getting scratched in two straight - it’s possible the Sabres will elect to buy out the final three years of Leino’s contract.
Following the lockout last year, the NHL gave teams two compliance buyouts to be used by the 2014-15 season. The Sabres did not use one last year, so they can use two this summer. It would cost $7.33 million to buy out Leino, but his cap hit would be erased.
Leino is aware he’s a buyout candidate.
“I can’t really do anything about it, so I’ll accept whatever it is,” he said. “When the season’s over, that’s time to think about that.”
Leino returned to the lineup against the Canadiens because center Zenon Konopka tweaked his back during the flight from Vancouver to Montreal. Leino found himself in coach Ted Nolan’s doghouse after a turnover in Calgary led to a goal by the Flames.
“You don’t want to do that play, but saying that we’re not able to bail ourselves out of those situations,” Leino said. “Nobody’s bailing you out. It’s three-on-three. It turns the other way, then we lose guys and lose battles and don’t box out. When you’re not playing good, those things end up going in.
“Saying that, I’ve still got to try to make plays when there’s an opportunity. Sometimes, it involves a little bit of a risk and taking a chance. I’ll try to stay out of it because that will bite me apparently.”
Leino, who skated with John Scott and Matt Ellis, took one shot in 12:01 of ice time against Montreal to bring his season total to 35 shots. He’s failed to shoot in 27 of his 51 games. He has 5 hours, 50 minutes, 57 seconds of ice time in those shot-free games.
He couldn’t help the Sabres avoid getting shut out for the 10th time this season. Buffalo has just 132 goals. With 10 games left, the Sabres could break the record low of 151 set by the 1997-98 Tampa Bay Lightning.
Montreal goaltender Carey Price picked up the shutout with 24 saves. Buffalo counterpart Matt Hackett stopped the first 31 shots taken by the Habs, but they finally solved him with 9:07 to play. Old friend Thomas Vanek set up a driving Max Pacioretty to break the scoreless tie, and fellow former Sabres forward Daniel Briere scored with 3:06 to go after Cory Conacher took a high-sticking penalty.
The Sabres went 5 for 6 on the penalty kill and didn’t allow a shot during a four-minute run caused by D’Agostini’s hold and unsportsmanlike conduct.
“Our penalty killing was good to a point, but there’s only a certain amount of bad, bad penalties you can kill off,” Nolan said. “It’s frustrating. The players that are here maybe have only 10 games left with us. You can’t be taking those type of penalties and expect to stick around.”