BUFFALO – This season, Rasmus Dahlin’s fourth in the NHL, the Sabres defenseman has been trying to calm down a little.
Earlier in his career, Dahlin’s competitiveness often overwhelmed him, and any mistake he made stayed with him.
“This is probably the first year I’ve been thinking about it more and more, so it’s a learning process,” Dahlin said after the Sabres prepared for tonight’s game against the Calgary Flames at KeyBank Center.
Dahlin, 21, has also had some help. The Swede’s defense partner the last four games, the affable Mark Pysyk, is perhaps the Sabres’ most calming presence.
“On the bench, off the ice, he’s such a nice and fun guy,” Dahlin said of Pysyk. “He makes me relax. I’m a competitive guy and he’s like, ‘Dude, relax, have fun,’ stuff like that. So I like playing with him.”
Since being partnered last week, Dahlin and Pysyk have been on the ice for six five-on-five goals for and zero against, according to NaturalStatTrick.com.
Pysyk’s no-frills, defense-first style has also rubbed off on Dahlin, who has often tried to do too much with the puck and created more trouble. During a recent game, Dahlin simply flipped the puck to center ice, making a safe play to get the Sabres out of danger.
“Playing a lot of minutes, I figure you can’t be perfect all the time,” Dahlin said. “You have to make those plays sometimes. That’s why I’ve been trying to learn the most this year to play a more complete game. Doing the right stuff out there, it’s not going to be flashy all the time. … I’m trying to play more like a D and be a guy you can trust.”
In Tuesday’s 2-1 win in Pittsburgh, Dahlin and everyone else on the Sabres’ power play couldn’t be trusted to score or defend. Not only did the Sabres go scoreless in five chances against the Penguins, they gave up a slew a chances up a man in the third period.
The power play has been awful lately, converting zero of 13 chances over the past four outings. Since starting the season five of 17, they’ve scores on just three of their 25 chances over the past 10 contests.
Winger Victor Olofsson, the team’s top power-play presence, has missed the last six games battling an upper-body injury.
Coach Don Granato said he wants the Sabres to possess a five-on-five mentality on the man advantage.
“It is a psychological challenge for us right now,” Granato said. “The first thing we have to do is not give up chances against. You think of the power play, you think about how do you score more? When I look at the chances against in the third period the other night, we gave up more chances against when we had the power play than we did the rest of the period five-on-five.
“Obviously, just a shift in focus. I don’t think it’s a tactic thing because if you just played like you were five-on-five you would have broke the pressure needed, but a lot of times on the power play simply, if you want a visual, you go to your spots on the power play, even though you haven’t broken the pressure yet.
“So it might still be a one-on-one or a two-on-one on the puck and you’re spreading out to go to a setup and it’s something as simple or subtle as that. … For us, it’s focus, concentration and work. Those are foundation elements of our five-on-five game that for some reason have disappeared on the five-on-four.”
In lineup news, goalie Dustin Tokarski will be starting for the sixth time in seven games. He has never faced the Flames in his career.
Here is the rest of tonight’s projected lineup.
Forwards (from left to right):
Jeff Skinner, Tage Thompson and Rasmus Asplund
Drake Caggiula, Dylan Cozens and Vinnie Hinostroza
Zemgus Girgensons, Cody Eakin and Kyle Okposo
Anders Bjork, Arttu Ruotsalainen and John Hayden
Defense (from left to right):
Dahlin and Pysyk
Jacob Bryson and Colin Miller
Will Butcher and Robert Hagg