BUFFALO – Since Sabres winger Victor Olofsson returned from a soft tissue injury Nov. 21, he has recorded zero goals in 17 games, a career-long drought. The Swede hasn’t scored since Oct. 31, when he registered his fifth goal in the season’s eighth contest.
Given his power-play scoring prowess, Olofsson wasn’t prone to long slumps over his first two NHL seasons. His previous career-long goalless stretch was just eight games.
So what’s going on? How has a player who seemed primed for perhaps a 25- or 30-goal season gone dry for seven weeks?
Well, Olofsson’s injury hampered his ability to shoot the puck. His quick release and lethal shot rank among the NHL’s elite. They’re his greatest assets.
Last week, Olofsson, 26, said immediately following his eight-game absence, he “couldn’t really shoot the puck.”
While the injury has gotten better, coach Don Granato, whose Sabres host the San Jose Sharks tonight, believes Olofsson has lost his feel for the puck. Early on, Olofsson couldn’t even practice his shot.
So instead of unleashing the puck almost instantly, Granato said Olofsson has been overhandling it and massaging it before he shoots.
“It takes him longer to prep it because he doesn’t have that feel because of the injury he went through,” Granato said following Wednesday’s practice inside KeyBank Center. “And he might not even recognize that. I can see it because I can see the pattern that’s different in his release. The prep of the release of a shot, there’s that extra half a second or one second or one quarter of a second.”
In taking just a tiny bit longer to shoot, Olofsson loses his advantage. The goalie has time to set himself or a defenseman can move into the shot lane.
“He did things one quarter of a second faster than 98 percent of the shooters in the league, so it throws the timing off of a goaltender,” Granato said. “So when he goes through an injury that affects his shooting, that complicates scoring until you can get back to that 100 percent.
“With him, as a visual, what I see is it’s tougher for him to catch and release the puck. He’s got to prep it a little bit more.”
Olofsson acknowledged it has been difficult to return from an injury and still be hampered by it.
“I … haven’t been able to use probably one of my best abilities out there,” Olofsson said of his shot. “But there’s no excuses, either. I just got to do what I can control and do it to the best of my abilities.”
Granato said he has seen frustration creep into Olofsson’s game. Olofsson, having scored 20 goals as a rookie in 2019-20, has high expectations for himself.
“He has a personal standard that he feels he’s not achieving,” Granato said.
Olofsson said: “You usually go through periods like this in a season. It might’ve been a little bit longer than I wanted, but I just want to keep focusing on what’s coming here. I can’t stay in the past and be frustrated about that.”
Still, Olofsson has remained productive, compiling 10 assists over the past 17 games. Last week, he showcased chemistry at left wing beside center Peyton Krebs and Kyle Okposo.
Krebs and Okposo are now in the NHL’s COVID-19 protocol, so on Wednesday, Olofsson practiced at right wing on the top line beside Tage Thompson, his center much of this season, and Jeff Skinner.
Despite his shooting problems, since registering zero shots on goal Dec. 14, Olofsson has pumped 14 shots on net in the last five games. That’s his highest output over a five-game stretch since the first contests this season.
Granato said Olofsson “looked within himself” following the Sabres’ three post-Christmas games.
“The last couple days he’s practiced with much more intent,” Granato said. “Intensity and intent. And so for me it’s much like Skinner at the start of the year. He’s gonna start scoring. He’s doing the right things. Just keep doing the right things and you’re gonna get what you want. And so Victor’s doing the right things.”
Olofsson possesses confidence scoring just once will ignite him.
“Usually that’s how it goes,” Olofsson said. “That’s the feeling I have right now. I feel like I’m just kind of there knocking on the door, and when I finally get one in, I feel like I’m going to get more.”