Victor Olofsson has scored a career-high 24 goals this season. ©2023, Micheline Veluvolu

Sabres’ Victor Olofsson experiencing up-and-down, career-best season

BUFFALO – Victor Olofsson refused to celebrate the end of his 15-game goal drought. The Sabres winger did not skate to the bench for the customary fist bumps from his teammates or even raise his stick.

Olofsson scored for the first time since Jan. 26 with the Sabres trailing by six goals late in Thursday’s embarrassing 10-4 home loss to the Dallas Stars.

The Swede wasn’t exactly giddy.

“But it’s always nice to score and just to kind of get that off my back a little bit … and just focus on playing hockey,” Olofsson said following Friday’s practice.

Olofsson, 27, has played some of his best hockey this season, his fourth full NHL campaign.

He has already scored a career-high 24 goals in 64 games, putting him on pace for 31 entering this afternoon’s contest against the New York Rangers at KeyBank Center. His 19 even-strength goals are also a career best and as many as he scored in the previous two seasons combined.

Olofsson’s five-on-five scoring prowess has help him shed the label he’s simply a one-dimensional player who utilizes his lethal shot on the power play.

“Ever since I got into the league, people have been focusing on that I haven’t scored five-on-five,” he said. “I think this year I have and I’ve proven to myself that I can be a good player five-on-five, too, and not only on the power play. So definitely I feel a lot more confident, even though I didn’t score for a while, I feel like I’ve been creating chances that I should’ve always scored on.”

But he has remained streaky and weak defensively. His minus-22 ranks last on the team.

Prior to his recent dry spell, he scored 10 times over a torrid 12-game stretch in January. He roared out out of the gate this season, scoring nine times in the first 11 contests. Then he mustered just five goals over the next 25 outings.

Of course, those rough stretches are nothing compared to the 30-game goal drought he endured last season as he recovered from a wrist injury that severely hampered his shooting.

“I feel like I learned lot through that,” Olofsson said. “The more you can just focus on the positive things in your game and trying to just work hard and try to not focus on scoring all the time, usually it will come and resolve itself. It’s always frustrating when you go 10 games or so without scoring and you start thinking a little bit.”

Sabres coach Don Granato said he and his staff have been giving the 5-foot-11, 181-pound Olofsson small areas of his game to focus on.

Granato, for example, wants him to play more on the inside and not worry about scoring.

“He’s a scorer and his instincts will take care of that,” he said.

Olofsson evolved when he was recovering from his wrist injury last season, finding different ways to score and morphing into a stronger five-on-five presence. He registered 15 goals over his final 34 games.

“He’s in a similar situation now, where you almost try to solve your challenge by scoring,” Granato said. “But your challenge will be solved naturally if we can turn his attention to something else.”

At his best, Granato said, Olofsson showcases a simple, “more direct” style.

“(He’s) more willing to get to simple shooting areas rather than the perfect shooting scenario,” he said.

After Olofsson scored twice Jan. 21 in a 6-3 win over the Anaheim Ducks, Granato lauded him, saying he had never looked so comfortable or confident at five-on-five.

Despite his recent struggles, Olofsson believes he has developed into a much more well-rounded presence.

Still, he said his details have slipped over the past six weeks and not only has he struggled to score, he has registered just one plus rating in a game during that stretch.

“I would say details in the game that kind of adds up and maybe puck battles and playing solid defensively,” he said. “I’ve had a few times where I’ve let that slip a little bit. I mean, it kind of shows in my overall game. But I feel like I’ve just been trying to focus on that more and I feel like I’ve been playing better lately.”

Granato reunited Olofsson with center Tyson Jost and Casey Mittelstadt, his linemates most of the season, during Friday’s practice at LECOM Harborcenter.

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