The Buffalo Sabres have just passed the quarter mark of the season, and they’ve limped through most of it. Any success they’ve seen over the early going is largely attributed to their goaltending. To call their even strength scoring ‘inept’ would be an understatement.
The team is ranked 24 in the league in goal differential, with a minus-13. This number is certainly dismal, however, it gets worse. The Sabres are dead last in both goals for, with 43, and goals per game, with 1.95. The next team up from the bottom is scoring 2.24 — nearly a half a goal better.
Put into perspective, a half a goal better over Buffalo’s 21 games would be approximately 10 goals. That would make Buffalo’s differential minus-3, which would move them up four spots to around twentieth.
More importantly, though, are the points in the standings that that that the team left on the table by not scoring. Their goaltenders have maintained a 2.38 goals against average – that half a goal would make them almost even on the season, increasing the probability of a tie or a win in many of the close games they’ve played this season.
There is no arguing that 43 goals in 22 games is unacceptable. What’s worse, really, is that the team has scored 17 goals on the power play. This means that the Sabres have scored only 26 goals at even strength – just barely more than one per game. Of course, it is great to see that Buffalo’s special teams are performing well.
The Sabres are middle-of-the-pack in power play opportunities though, which means they’re playing most of their hockey 5-on-5. You can see by the chart that the team is performing far below expectations at even strength. More information this available here.
The causes for this lack of scoring are varied. The number one reason the team has lacked scoring is they’ve been missing last year’s season leader in goals, Jack Eichel. That was clear Tuesday evening when he made his triumphant debut to the tune of a goal and an assist.
It’s not just Eichel’s goals that the team is missing, though; the young center is one of the league’s best two-way players, and they’re also missing his ability to transition out of their zone. The team is allowing 32.6 shots per game, which is among the five worst in the league. The lack of a suppressing center like Eichel is certainly affecting the team’s scoring simply by playing in their own end too much.
On top of Eichel’s absence, the team has missed Evander Kane and Ryan O’Reilly for periods of time. That’s three of the team’s top four goal scorers in the 2015-16 season.
The games missed due to injury continue to pile up, as offseason acquisition Dmitry Kulikov has been out for most of November, and Zach Bogosian has spent a lot of evenings in the press box. The persistent injuries are taking their toll on the healthy players in the lineup.
Constant line juggling has prevented the team from formulating chemistry with linemates. Buffalo’s best players are seeing a lot of icetime; O’Reilly and Kyle Okposo are often playing more than 20 minutes a night. Several times, Rasmus Ristolainen’s time on ice has come close to 30 minutes. These minutes are incredibly demanding, and could be an explanation for lackluster play.
Call ups from the Rochester Americans have filled in admirably, but most have proven they’re not quite ready to be full-time NHL players.
With Jack Eichel now back in the lineup, things should be looking up. The lines that had success last season will see a return to normal, and with that, an evening out of ice time should occur.
It would seem that the Sabres have weathered the storm, and were not completely defeated by the battle of attrition that can be the NHL season. If the team is able to remain healthy going forward, their early scoring woes will be a forgotten nightmare.