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How does Buffalo fix shootout woes?

The Buffalo Sabres faced the Florida Panthers Tuesday night in a game decided by the 2nd shootout in four days. The Sabres are now 1-5 in shootouts this season, which begs the question: what gives?

Robin Lehner and Anders Nilsson have both been in three shootout contests apiece and neither have had much success. Nilsson does have the lone win against Pittsburgh on November 19th, but he has made four saves on eight shots. Lehner hasn’t made a single save on a total of six shots.

“I keep working on them,” Lehner said. “Good shooters. What can I say?”

Both goaltenders have played great this season. They’ve come up with big saves and have had high volumes of work during games. While they’re not elite, they’re keeping the team in these games.

The Sabres have played 18 games that have been decided by one goal and Buffalo has gone 7-3-8 in those. Remove the shootout numbers from that and the team is 6-3-3. It may look better, but that’s still just a .500 winning percentage. While the goaltenders aren’t holding up in the shootout, the team needs to do a better job of holding late leads or finding that one more goal.

Offensive shootout efficiency isn’t any better. Buffalo is 3-15 on shots in with Sam Reinhart having two goals and Cal O’Reilly having one.

What’s surprising is that Kyle Okposo has had a lot of success in the shootout when he played for the New York Islanders. He was 13-for-35, a percentage of 37 percent. This season, he’s been stoned all five times.

Also, Ryan O’Reilly has yet to score a shootout goal since he’s been a Sabre, going 0-8 over the past two seasons. It’s the most chances any Sabre has had without scoring. He was previously tied with Clarke MacArthur at 0-7.

It’s the same type of story for Evander Kane, who is 0-4 on shootout attempts with Buffalo, and Jack Eichel, who is 1-6.

Matt Moulson and Sam Reinhart have had a little more success, but the Sabres have to find a way to start scoring in the shootout. The only teams with a worse shootout win percentage than Buffalo’s .167 are the Colorado Avalanche (0-5) and the Toronto Maple Leafs (0-1).

It’s been documented that the Sabres practice shootouts regularly, even going as far as having the last player to not make a shootout goal in practice grow a mustache for a month. The lack of shootout efficiency is directly tied to the lack of goals this season. The Sabres are 2nd to last in goals for this season with 68, a stark comparison to the league leader, Pittsburgh, which has 114.

“Keep trying and keep working at them,” Bylsma said. “We keep practicing them a different way, focus a different way, mindset a different way. It’s what we’ve got to keep doing.”

The Sabres have had seasons with at least five shootout wins eight different times since 2005-06, but the last two seasons they have gone 2-7 and now 1-5. It’s easy to say that the law of averages will catch up, but the Sabres need to figure out how to show up. When the shootouts consistently end after two rounds, it’s not a good sign.

Buffalo are giving much-needed points away because of it. Whether Bylsma brings in Anders Nilsson off the bench or sticks with Lehner until he can perform better, something has to be done.

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