It’s not a secret the Sabres need help scoring. It’s also not a secret who needs to supply the help.
Matt Moulson and Drew Stafford, expected to make up two-thirds of Buffalo’s top line this afternoon against Detroit, have goose eggs in the goal column lately. Moulson is stuck in a 10-game drought. Stafford has gone seven games without a goal and has just one in the past 18.
That’s obviously trouble for a team languishing at the bottom of the NHL.
“We’ve got to bear down, myself especially,” Moulson said Saturday. “It seems like we’re getting those in-tight shots, and you’ve got to find a way to score in this league. Myself, I think I’ve had some good looks over the last couple games and haven’t been able to put it in. I’ve got to keep working to get those chances. Good chances don’t come easy in the NHL.”
In Buffalo, goals don’t come easily. The Sabres are averaging just 1.67 goals per game to rank 30th in the 30-team league. Carolina is 29th at 1.91. No one else is under two.
“My simple philosophy in life is if it ain’t working, we’re not working hard enough,” coach Ted Nolan said in Bud Bakewell Arena at Riverside Park. “We’ve just got to get back and do things that maybe we don’t want to do sometimes. That’s go up the wall, dump it in and go get it. Sometimes we want to carry it in and make a nice play, but that’s not going to be here in this type of day and age.”
Stafford and Moulson have the size to play a dump-and-chase style. They are expected to be reunited with center Cody Hodgson after one game apart. The trio has no goals on its last 48 shots.
“We need to put it away,” said Stafford, who has 20 shots in the last seven games. “We are getting the chances, myself included. It’s just a matter of taking that little extra second and just find a spot instead of shooting to get shots.”
Moulson scored twice in his Buffalo debut Oct. 28 but hasn’t found the net since. He’s taken 19 shots during the 10-game drought and missed several point-blank chances.
He’s mired in the second-worst slump of his career, trailing only a 13-game slide last season.
“You’ve got to have a pretty short-term memory in any sport, whether you have a good day or a bad day,” Moulson said. “Once you break out of it – get one off your leg or a cheesy one – all of a sudden the floodgates open.”
Hodgson, who has three goals and six points in nine games this month, sees good things in Moulson’s game. The center expects the three-time 30-goal scorer to work out of the slide.
“He competes hard,” Hodgson said. “That’s a big thing. A lot of guys that are goal scorers, they can find easy plays. Matt works for everything. He works to get open. He works to get position in front of the net. I like that. I like playing with him.
“Overall, all of us could be better, but I enjoy playing with those guys.”
It’ll take a lot of work for the Sabres’ top line to shine today in First Niagara Center. Though Buffalo will have the last line change, the team’s No. 1 unit will likely face a heavy dose of perennial Selke Trophy candidate Pavel Datsyuk.
“When you’ve got players in this league that are great at playing defensively, you have to make sure you outwork them,” Moulson said. “They’ve got some pretty good players over there.”
It’s been a struggle for Hodgson’s line to keep the puck. Opponents are attempting 16.5 shots per game when he is on the ice, while he and his mates are averaging 11.6.
The Red Wings, who flew in for the 5 p.m. start following Saturday night’s home game against Ottawa, haven’t been as dominant with the puck this year. Detroit averaged nearly five more shots per game than its opponents over the previous five seasons, but it had just a 0.2 edge per game heading into Saturday.
“More possession time will allow us to play in their end instead of defending,” Hodgson said. “We’ve got work to do obviously, but we’re getting there.”