The Buffalo Sabres are a totally different-looking workforce now than they have been at first of the 2020-21 season. From season-ending accidents to Jack Eichel, Jake McCabe, and Zemgus Girgensons, to the firing of head coach Ralph Krueger, to the trading away of players like Taylor Hall, Eric Staal, Brandon Montour, and Curtis Lazar, it’s been a rollercoaster that’s gone principally down.
However regardless of nonetheless sitting at thirty first within the NHL standings at 10-25-7 (27 factors), the Sabres have proven indicators of life in latest motion. Buffalo is 4-2-2 in its final eight video games, together with a hard-fought 3-2 shootout loss to a very good Boston Bruins workforce on Tuesday when the Sabres clawed again from a third-period deficit to earn some extent.
With the workforce 75 p.c completed with one other season with no playoff look, right here’s a three-quarter season report card for the Sabres.
Coming into the 2020-21 season, the Sabres’ ahead group was anticipated to incorporate the likes of Eichel, Corridor, Staal, Girgensons, and Lazar. In the mean time, each a kind of gamers is both out for the season resulting from damage or has been traded. For sure, there’s been a number of turmoil amongst the Buffalo ahead ranks.
On the intense aspect, these losses have given the Sabres an opportunity to see what they’ve in kids like Dylan Cozens, Casey Mittelstadt, Rasmus Asplund, and Arttu Ruotsalainen. All of these gamers have proven flashes and needs to be part of the workforce’s rebuild subsequent season.
The Sabres have additionally gotten higher manufacturing in latest video games from Kyle Okposo and Tage Thompson, each of whom have been offensive nonfactors early within the season. Okposo has 12 factors in his final 16 video games, whereas Thompson has five points in his last nine and has discovered good chemistry on a line with Mittelstadt and Asplund.
Sadly, the Sabres nonetheless rank twenty ninth within the league in scoring (2.31 targets per recreation) as huge names like Sam Reinhart, Victor Olofsson, and Jeff Skinner have struggled to seek out the web just lately.
The Sabres additionally entered Thursday twenty ninth within the NHL in objective prevention (3.43 targets per recreation), and whereas a great deal of the blame has to go to the workforce’s revolving door of goaltenders, the blueline has struggled ever because the lack of McCabe to damage and Rasmus Ristolainen’s prolonged absence resulting from COVID-19.
Based on Natural Stat Trick, no present Buffalo defenseman has an anticipated targets for proportion (xGF%) above 47.0, with Matt Irwin (41.5) and Colin Miller (44.5) sporting particularly ugly numbers.
It hasn’t been all unhealthy recently, nevertheless. Rasmus Dahlin and Henri Jokiharju have fashioned a stable pairing, with Dahlin trying like a totally completely different participant underneath interim coach Don Granato. The previous first total choose has six factors in his final six video games and scored a dandy of a objective to tie the sport within the third interval towards Boston on Tuesday.
With Montour traded to the Florida Panthers, the Sabres will look to convey up both Will Borgen, who appeared wonderful in 4 video games earlier than breaking his arm, or Mattias Samuelsson, who has performed properly for Rochester within the AHL.
The identical upheaval that was talked about within the ahead group may very well be in retailer for the defensemen: looking forward to subsequent season, solely Dahlin, Bryson, and Jokiharju are certain bets to nonetheless be round.
Guess the place the Sabres rank in workforce save proportion? That’s proper: twenty ninth. Buffalo’s .895 save proportion (SV%) is forward of solely the Ottawa Senators and Philadelphia Flyers. The Sabres are additionally certainly one of solely 4 groups that has but to file a shutout.
The workforce goaltending grade ought to actually be cut up into two sections, although: Linus Ullmark and never Linus Ullmark. Amazingly, the Sabres nonetheless have just one win with somebody aside from the 27-year-old Swede in internet. To make issues even worse, Ullmark needed to go away Tuesday’s recreation with a lower-body damage, the newest in a now disturbingly lengthy line of damage woes.
When wholesome, Ullmark has been excellent, with a 9-6-3 file, a .917 SV%, and a 2.63 goals-against common (GAA) whereas taking part in behind the worst workforce in hockey.
With Carter Hutton nonetheless out along with his personal damage, the Sabres should now depend on Dustin Tokarski because the de facto primary. However after some early struggles, Tokarski has been respectable of late: regardless of a file of 0-4-2 and a tough 3.54 GAA, he additionally sports activities a .905 SV% whereas MoneyPuck credit him with -1.6 targets saved above anticipated. That’s not nice, but it surely’s really higher than each Ullmark (-3.6) and Hutton (-8.2). Like many different Sabres gamers, he’s been the sufferer of some unhealthy luck.
The Sabres solely have 1 / 4 of the season remaining, but when Ullmark misses any extra time, extra wins is likely to be onerous to come back by.
Particular Groups: C+
One of many solely issues the Sabres had going for them initially of the season and even within the early portion of the 18-game winless streak was their particular workforce’s play. The penalty kill was hanging across the center of the league, whereas the ability play was at one level ranked as excessive as third.
Surprisingly, because the Sabres have begun to marginally enhance, the particular groups have continued to slide. On the ability play, there’s no secret to the shortage of success: no Eichel. With out the captain of the workforce and the captain of the ability play, the Sabres have appeared totally misplaced on the person benefit, going 3-for-22 over the past 10 video games. Buffalo ranks 14th in power-play success fee (21.0%), however lots of these targets got here when Eichel was nonetheless round.
The penalty kill, in the meantime, ranks twentieth at 77.8%, and it wouldn’t be stunning to see that quantity proceed to drop because the Sabres have 10 video games remaining towards the Bruins, Pittsburgh Penguins, and Washington Capitals, all of whom boast top-10 power-play items.
These percentages could be a bit deceptive, although, as few groups within the NHL take or draw fewer penalties than the Sabres. Buffalo ranks — you guessed it — twenty ninth in each power-play alternatives for (105) and towards (108).
Very similar to the goaltending class, this grade ought to actually be cut up into two components: Krueger and Granato. It’s changing into clearer by the day that the Sabres held onto Krueger for much too lengthy. The season was doubtless misplaced anyway, however they might have been in a position to not less than cease the bleeding and keep away from the embarrassment of dropping 18 video games in a row if they’d moved on from Krueger sooner.
That’s to not say that the workforce has changed into a powerhouse underneath Granato. The Sabres are nonetheless simply 4-7-3 since Krueger was fired. However it’s obvious to anybody who’s watching that this team is much more engaged and competitive than they have been earlier than. Video games the place the Sabres fall behind early not flip into cakewalks for the opponent.
It’s clear that the Sabres have not less than some curiosity in probably removing the “interim” tag from Granato’s title. How these final 14 video games play out, not a lot close to wins and losses however to effort and competitiveness, will go a good distance in shaping administration’s choice.
The Sabres wrap up a three-game street journey on Thursday towards Washington earlier than starting a five-game homestand with a weekend doubleheader towards the Penguins.
Born and raised in Buffalo, NY, Nick has a Bachelor’s diploma in historical past from Boston College and a Grasp’s diploma in journalism from Syracuse College. He interned at Little League Worldwide the place he lined the Little League Baseball World Collection. Nick then spent over three years as a newspaper sports activities reporter and editor on the Bradford Period in Bradford, PA and the Each day Freeman in Kingston, NY. He’s at present dwelling in Buffalo the place he’s nonetheless holding out hope for a Payments Tremendous Bowl and/or Sabres Stanley Cup.