BUFFALO – Defenseman Rasmus Dahlin often struggled in the Sabres’ first 24 games this season, looking like a youngster in need of a confidence boost.
Still, Dahlin, who suffered a concussion in Monday’s 5-2 road loss to the Tampa Bay Lightning when Erik Cernak elbowed him in the face, is a dynamic talent. The reeling Sabres sorely need him in the lineup.
Update: Dahlin is out indefinitely, according to the Sabres.
The Sabres haven’t given an update on Dahlin, who left the game with about 2:30 remaining in the second period. They had Tuesday off following their 10th loss in 12 games (2-8-2).
For concussing Dahlin, the NHL suspended Cernak two games on Tuesday.
With the Sabres on the power play, Cernak elbowed Dahlin in the left circle after the Swede backhanded a pass.
According a video the NHL Department of Player Safety released Tuesday explaining the suspension, the Lightning argued in the hearing “Dahlin’s glove drove Cernak’s elbow upward and caused the head contact.”
“It is clear to us that Cernak’s elbow is already on a trajectory where head contact is inevitable,” the department said.
Cernak, 22, had never been suspended in his 78-game NHL career. The two-game ban will cost him $7,500, according to the NHL.
The Slovak wasn’t penalized for the hit. The Sabres did not retaliate against the defenseman.
Losing Dahlin, 19, for an extended period would be a huge blow to the Sabres, who host the Calgary Flames tonight at KeyBank Center.
Despite some shaky moments, Dahlin has already recorded 16 points and skates almost 19 minutes a contest.
The Sabres, of course, possess defense depth. In recent games, they’ve been dressing seven defenders and 11 forwards. Even with an extra playing, one has been sitting out.
On Monday, Sabres coach Ralph Krueger scratched alternate captain Jake McCabe.
Benching McCabe, a young veteran often regarded as one of the Sabres core pieces, underscores their problems.
Right now, they’re a mess. They’ve been plummeting down the standings for almost a month. Nearly every player is struggling.
Since Oct. 28, they’ve mustered an NHL-low two wins and six points. Every other team had earned at least four victories entering Tuesday’s games.
In that span, the Sabres have scored a league-low 27 goals and allowed 42. Their special teams rank dead last over that stretch.
So why have the Sabres imploded following their scorching 9-2-1 start? Myriad things have contributed to their wretched stretch, according to one scout who has watched them regularly this season.
The scout said the Sabres miss veteran Marcus Johansson. An upper-body injury has sidelined the Swede the last seven games.
Without Johansson, the Sabres don’t have a second-line center to take pressure off the top trio and feed winger Jeff Skinner the puck.
“His confidence definitely isn’t the same,” he said of Dahlin. “I don’t quite get some of the benchings. They haven’t lost him, but they’ve kind of hurt his confidence in regards to his overall game.
“I didn’t really understand them scratching Miller. … I mean, you go out and acquire this guy, and then why do you do that?”
The scout also said the Sabres need more production from their third- and fourth-liners. He said bottom-six forwards must thump opponents, create excitement and change the tempo of the game.
“They don’t do that,” he said. “Plus they don’t generate much offense.”
The scout also believes some of the juice the Sabres received from Krueger’s arrival has worn off.
“There’s a bump … then everything kind of drops back to what it was,” he said.