Lindy Ruff threw down the gauntlet to Derek Roy, Jason Pominville, Drew Stafford, Paul Gaustad, Tim Connolly and Mike Grier yesterday.
"Our key players have to make a difference and they haven't yet. It's disappointing," the Buffalo Sabres head coach said, pointing out that the team's top six forwards bear the biggest responsibility for the 3-1 lead the Boston Bruins have in their first-round playoff series. The Bruins can finish off the Sabres with a win tonight at HSBC Arena here.
When left winger Thomas Vanek was lost to an ankle injury in the second game of the series, the Sabres' offence went missing with him. Vanek, who tested his ankle for about 45 minutes yesterday during an optional practice, remains questionable for the game tonight. So do the rest of the team's top forwards.
After four games, Vanek remains tied for the lead in the Sabres' playoff scoring with four other players, with two points each. None of the other four are among the Sabres' top six forwards. Two of the top six, Gaustad and Stafford, whose ill-timed jump on the ice drew the too-many-men penalty that led to the winning goal in double overtime for the Bruins in Game 4 on Wednesday, have yet to register a point. A couple of the others, Connolly and Roy, have barely registered their presence.
Ruff made it clear too many of the culprits are squandering too many scoring chances and not enough of them are playing bravely enough to create much in the slot around Bruins goaltender Tuukka Rask, where most playoff goals are scored.
"There's been some opportunities but I didn't think we made good decisions [Wednesday]night," Ruff said. "Some decisions by Roy, Pominville [and others]that could have put the game away, some of their decisions were not good. They could have created extra opportunities for us.
"Some of their decisions turned into offensive situations for Boston, which was even worse. We've got to make sure those decisions are better. We don't have a lot of room for error."
Roy, the Sabres' No. 1 centre who has one assist in four games, was not happy with Ruff's comments, judging by the looks he gave the person who brought them up. But he allowed they were on the mark.
"Yeah, we're not contributing offensively like we want to," he said. "We're getting the minutes, we're getting our scoring chances but we're not putting them away. The onus is on the top six forwards. We've got to go out there and do a good job."
The problem with indifferent play from the forwards is that it affects all other areas of the Sabres' game except the goaltending. Ryan Miller is the one player on the team who has been outstanding in every game.
The most obvious side effect is the Buffalo power play. It was 17th overall among 30 teams in the regular season with a 17.8-per-cent success rate. That is not quite respectable but it is still a far cry from the Sabres' 0-for-14 mark against the Bruins.
Part of the problem is simply a bad matchup. The Sabres had the misfortune to draw one of the NHL's best defensive teams in the first round but their lack of offence also means there is more pressure on their own defence and they cannot recover from even a slight surge by the Bruins.
During the regular season, the Sabres had the lead 30 times going into the third period and did not give it up once. In four games in this series, they have already blown two third-period leads and lost both times.