In the end, it looks like another 2-1 loss, an all-too common result for the Buffalo Sabres. The result in Ottawa on Thursday marked the 11th time in 32 games that the Sabres scored just one goal.
But consider the Sabres threw a season-high 41 shots on Senators goaltender Craig Anderson. They generated breakaways, odd-man-rushes and plenty of scoring opportunities. The feel of the game, and the feel in the room, was remarkably different than after all those other one-goal performances.
It was an encouraging performance with a frustrating outcome, but one that seems to have the Sabres in a good state of mind heading into today’s 2 p.m. game with the Calgary Flames at First Niagara Center.
“We’re seeing signs of a different team as of late with the work ethic and the process that we’re sticking to,” captain Steve Ott said. “Obviously we didn’t get the results we wanted to accomplish but all in all very encouraging with our play. Most nights you play like that you’re gonna win.”
In the last two games, the Sabres fired off 77 shots on goal with only two finding the back of the net.
But the shots on goal are progress. Heading into Thursday’s game, the Sabres had been averaging just 25.5 shots a game.
You can’t score if you don’t shoot.
The shots are finally starting to come and with them opportunities just begging to be finished.
“Earlier in the season we weren’t getting any chances,” said Tyler Ennis, who led the team with seven shots and scored the only goal on Thursday. “We were just getting outplayed flat out and not generating much. Now, we’re generating a lot. We’re outplaying teams. When you’re getting chances and the puck’s not going in, it’s a lot better than when you’re not getting chances.”
“There’s a lot of positives you can take from it because you are getting the chances,” said Drew Stafford, who had six shots. “It’s frustrating on the other hand. We’re not burying it. That’s costing us wins. But the bottom line is there’s a good feeling in here because we’re making progress and we’re competing and the work is there. Earlier in the year, we didn’t feel we were in a lot of games. Now, we’re definitely getting closer.”
Closer yes, but how do they finish? How do they turn those opportunities into results?
Since he took over as interim coach, Ted Nolan has discussed his vision of the building process. It started with living the ideas of trust and accountability. The next step was being competitive throughout the lineup on a consistent basis.
Next up – get pucks to the net.
Now it’s about getting traffic in front of the net to create more and better chances to score from rebounds, second efforts and deflections.
“There’s a point where you start getting shots and there’s a point of how do we get the shots past the goaltender,” Nolan said. “We have to get more net-front presence. Every goaltender in this league is pretty good. So we have to make sure we set some screens in front and make it a little bit tougher for the goaltender.
“I know it’s a little bit late in the season to start doing that, but it’s where we are right now. The first thing is to get some trust in the players and get them to compete at a certain level. Then you get them to shoot some pucks at the net. Then you can’t just shoot it, you have to shoot with a purpose and get some screens. You have to start jamming the net. Drew Stafford is starting to get those chances now. We’ve just got to get some people in front of the net and good lord willing the puck will start going in.”