BUFFALO — The thinking went like this: Drew Stafford, fresh off a breakout offensive campaign, was a cinch for another big season. After all, the Sabres winger tallied 31 times in only 62 games last year.
Perhaps he could hit 40 goals. The 26-year-old had arrived as an NHL star, right?
One epic slump later, Stafford’s finally that lethal scoring threat again. It just took four months and an awful stretch of six goals in 52 games.
With two goals in the Sabres’ huge 5-1 triumph Tuesday in Washington – a win that moved them past the Capitals into eighth place, the Eastern Conference’s final playoff spot – Stafford has six scores and 14 points in the last eight games.
Right now, Stafford’s dazzling most nights, playing a dynamic right wing beside center Tyler Ennis and rookie Marcus Foligno. The trio’s probably the league’s most dangerous line.
“A lot of it has to do with my linemates getting us some great looks because of their creativity,” Stafford said about his resurgence following practice Wednesday inside the First Niagara Center. “They’re moving the puck around. I just happen to be getting some great looks because of them.”
Stafford has 19 goals and 47 points in 75 contests overall. He’s tallied 10 goals and 21 points in the last 20 games.
But what happened from October through February, when Stafford morphed into a gigantic bust after inking a four-year, $16 million contract during the offseason? Why couldn’t he build on 2010-11?
Stafford had a poor training camp, Sabres coach Lindy Ruff has said. Then, following three goals in the first four games, Stafford basically went dark until about a month ago.
“Sometimes you have a season like you did and you expect it to happen again,” Ruff said. “I think sometimes you look at the outside. You got to look at yourself in stretches like that, ‘Am I doing enough on the ice. Am I shooting enough?’