Drew Stafford has a team-high 10 points. ©2014, Dan Hickling, Olean Times Herald

Ted Nolan searching for right Sabres line combinations

BUFFALO – Drew Stafford figured what the heck, he had nothing to lose by offering his services at center. The Sabres winger had played the position in high school.

So Stafford recently told coach Ted Nolan he would move if the reeling Sabres wanted to experiment.

“I wanted to let him know I’m comfortable with whatever he throws at myself or whoever I end up with,” Stafford said Friday inside the First Niagara Center. “I want him to know I want to be part of something positive that tries to help us get better and turn this thing around somewhat, because everyone in here is obviously sick of this.

“It’s miserable, and we’re trying everything in our power to try to turn this around.”

Stafford practiced at center earlier this week, then started Thursday’s 6-3 loss in Minnesota there.

The nine-year veteran lasted just a couple of shifts.

“I think it was the right intent, but (he) found it a little bit more difficult than just assuming you’d like to do it,” Nolan said after the Sabres prepared for tonight’s game against the Toronto Maple Leafs.

Stafford, the Sabres’ leading scorer, shifted back to right wing. Nolan, meanwhile, went back to the drawing board.

The futility has forced Nolan and his staff to constantly switch lines, duos and even change some positions. So far, most attempts have yielded little or nothing.

The Sabres, losers of four straight contests, are an NHL-worst 3-13-2. Counting two scores awarded for two shootout wins, they’ve scored 24 goals and allowed 66, meaning they have a stunning minus-42 goal differential. No one else is below minus-17!

“You keep searching, you keep looking and hopefully you find that good combination,” Nolan said.

Nolan believes he found one combination, the trio of Matt Moulson, center Zemgus Girgensons and Tyler Ennis, whose five goals lead the Sabres.

“Looks like we got a great mix there,” Nolan said.

Of course, to create that line, Nolan put Ennis, his No. 1 center since the winter, back on the wing, where he started his NHL career.

“No coach in their right mind would be keeping the same lines with three wins,” Sabres center Torrey Mitchell said.

Sabres captain Brian Gionta, who’s still goalless, added: “He’s trying to find something that fits and works. At times, you get a line going and it works good, but then he tries to spread it out to try to get a few more going. So it’s trying to find that depth.”

Nolan said he wants to identify his top nine forwards. In addition to the No. 1 line, he also likes the trio of Mitchell, Gionta and Brian Flynn.

The other two lines are works in progress.

Nolan mixed up more lines Friday, putting Stafford with center Cody McCormick and Nick Deslauriers. Marcus Foligno, who will return from a shoulder injury tonight, skated on the left wing beside center Cody Hodgson and Chris Stewart. Patrick Kaleta also skated on that line and subbed for Ennis, who’s a little banged up.

Nolan wouldn’t say who would be scratched for Foligno, but his patience is clearly wearing thin with Hodgson and Stewart.

Both players have one goal and two points. Hodgson skated a season-low seven minutes, 53 seconds Thursday; Stewart played a season-low eight minutes, 31 seconds.

“The response is not what I expected,” said Nolan, who didn’t specifically name Hodgson and Stewart. “I expected a little bit more frustration, a little bit more anger. It’s like we’re just OK with it, and we can’t be OK with it. You got to want it.

“I guess that’s the biggest thing, we talked to our captains today, we had a good video session. One thing about pictures and video, they don’t lie.”

While the Sabres played terrible defensively Thursday, they scored three times for only the second time all season. Remember, six players on the roster have at least two 20-goal seasons on their resume.

“We have it,” Gionta said about the scoring. “It’s not a matter of bearing down more, it’s … how we play the game that doesn’t allow us to create enough chances, and that’s why scoring is down. We spend a lot of time in our D-zone. We don’t come around our own end clean so we’re coming through the neutral zone with speed, back off their D. We chase the puck a lot throughout the game.

“So when you don’t have that time to set plays up or get sustained pressure, so that’s why goals are down.”

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