BUFFALO – In the third period of Sunday’s 2-1 loss, Sabres center Dylan Cozens carried the puck into the Nashville zone, dished it off and made a beeline toward Predators goalie Juuse Saros.
A second later, Cozens grabbed a pass from linemate JJ Peterka and quickly tried to stuff it in the net. Only Saros’ left pad prevented his seventh and final shot of the night from tying the game.
Cozens, who has struggled to score this year, was arguably the best player in the Sabres’ third straight loss, recording a season-high shot total and attempting 11.
“I gotta score on one of those chances, for sure,” he said following the game. “I get paid a lot of money to score goals and I’m not doing that right now. Today, I had those chances. I was getting set up left and right, and I couldn’t find the back of the net. So I feel like this game’s a little bit on me.”
If he can keep replicating Sunday’s performance, the 6-foot-3, 195-pound Cozens should start scoring regularly. As his late scoring chance illustrates, he possessed “another level of determination and directness” throughout the game in KeyBank Center, Sabres coach Don Granato said.
“He used his feet better, he skated more, he pressured more and thought less,” said Granato, whose Sabres host the Detroit Red Wings tonight. “In my assessment, he’s overthinking. He’s been playing very frustrated. You guys know of the frustration he’s carried and harbored and pent up.”
Cozens, 22, verbalized that frustration over the weekend.
Following Saturday’s ugly 6-2 loss to the Hurricanes, he told reporters in Carolina the Sabres have lost their offensive swagger and play too soft. After Sunday’s setback, he explained how they must showcase desperation from the get-go.
Of course, Cozens is also notoriously hard on himself. With top center Tage Thompson injured and losses piling up, he likely feels more pressure than usual.
Cozens understands he has performed far below expectations in the first season of a seven-year, $49.7 million contract. Fresh off a breakout 31-goal, 68-point campaign, he has mustered just four goals and 11 points in 23 games. At his current pace, he would compile 14 goals and 38 points over a full season.
He has scored zero goals in his last six games and only one in his last 15 outings. In two of the last five contests, he has registered zero shots. His shooting percentage has dipped from 14.7 percent last season to 7.1 percent this year.
“There’s been times I’ve lacked a little bit of confidence based on a few things,” Cozens said. “I just need to … skate with the puck with speed and be willing to shoot and not always try to make the perfect play. Sometimes just getting it behind and focusing on the gritty things and the things you want to do.”
Cozens showcased strong chemistry Sunday pivoting Peterka and rookie Zach Benson, his linemates since late last month. Against the Predators, the trio registered a team-high 75.9 percent Corsi For, according to NaturalStatTrick.com.
“Those two guys are both so smart and they’re so easy to play with,” Cozens said. “I’ve played with JJ a lot, so I kind of know where he’s gonna be, and Benny just always seems like he’s in the right spot. He’s one of the smartest players on the ice every night.”
Notes: South Buffalo native Patrick Kane told reporters Monday in Detroit he likely won’t make his Red Wings debut tonight. Kane, 35, signed a one-year, $2.75 million contract with Detroit last Tuesday. … The Sabres had Monday off. Granato is expected to have updates today on Thompson, winger Alex Tuch and some of the team’s other injured forwards. … Hamburg native Patrick Geary, a freshman defenseman at Michigan State, has been invited to Team USA’s selection camp for the upcoming World Junior Championship.