The Buffalo Sabres’ special teams have been a mystery all season long.
Buffalo’s penalty kill is currently ranked fourth in the NHL at 86 percent. The Sabres’ extremely high percentage can be attributed to the fact that they have been shorthanded just 214 times this season—the third fewest penalties taken in the league.
The Sabres are not overly aggressive on the penalty kill. Instead, Buffalo lets its opponents take the puck into the offensive zone and waits until they make a mistake to clear it down the ice—this is more easily done with a goalie like Ryan Miller in net.
But, Buffalo’s checking line and defensive specialists—Paul Gaustad, Mike Grier, Jochen Hect, and Patrick Kaleta—are among the league’s elite penalty killers.
The previous ingredients, mixed with the rather large defensive pairing of 6’8” Tyler Myers and 6’4” Henrik Tallinder, make it very difficult for opponents to get into a groove on the power play.
While the Sabres have excelled being down a man, they have struggled as of late with the man advantage.
Buffalo has just one power-play goal in its last 10 games and is currently ranked 23rd in the NHL.
Thomas Vanek, Buffalo’s high-paid “superstar,” has not scored a power-play goal since Jan. 29 in a 2-1 win over the Boston Bruins.
But obviously Vanek isn’t the only player struggling at the moment, and head coach Lindy Ruff has had to mix up the power play lines as a result.
On one power play during the Sabres 2-1 OT win over the New York Rangers on Sunday, Ruff put out Mark Mancari, Tim Kennedy, and Jochen Hecht.
Mancari is understandable because his call-up could have motivated a few other players to get theirs acts together—not to mention he has a monster slap shot.
Kennedy, on the other hand, has been in a severe rut both offensively and defensively. Rewarding him with power-play time is not the way to break him out of it.
While Hecht is a key component to the Sabres’ penalty kill, he is not known for his dynamic offense.
The bottom line is that there are other players that should be used to help a laboring power play before Hecht is thrown into the mix.
Ruff has the right idea with Mancari.
If the power play continues to struggle, though, Nathan Gerbe and Tyler Ennis of the Portland Pirates may be next in line to provide a spark.
But for the moment, the Sabres and their conflicting special teams have done just enough to keep the team atop the Northeast division.