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Sabres have been mighty special

After beating the Boston Bruins in a shootout on Tuesday the night the Sabres have improved their record to 5-0-1 through six games.  It's an unexpected start from a team that struggled out of the gate last season and made only a few off-season moves.  The team is near the top of the league in goals scored (T-7th 3.33 Goals/Game) and they lead the league in goals against, allowing only 1.50 Goals/Game.

Sabres have been special

On the surface this looks like good news but the team has been average in even strength situations.  Of the Sabres 20 goals scored this season only nine have come in even strength situations.  They have scored 11 goals with their special teams.  In fact they are a very average plus one in even strength situations and they are a plus 10 on the special teams.  Notice I didn't say power play, the Sabres are unbelievably a plus one when they are shorthanded.  It's unreasonable to think the team will remain a plus while shorthanded but it does give you an idea of how good this team has been defensively. 

5-on-5 5-on-4 5-on-3 4-on-4 4-on-5 Total
Goals For 9 7 2 0 2 20
Goals Against 7 0 0 1 1 9

The Sabres are tied for sixth place in goals scored in the league but they are only 14th in goals scored while 5-on-5.   We know that good special teams win hockey games but is it reasonable to think they can continue playing at the current pace?  I think at some point the team will have to pick up their even strength play or they will find themselves losing these one goal games instead of winning them.

Where are the goals coming from

The Sabres have been getting contribution from many players when they are on the power play.  Five different players have scored power play goals with Thomas Vanek leading the way with three and another two while shorthanded.  Even more impressive than five different players scoring power play goals, 11 different players have power play points.  Jason Pominville leads the team with three power play assists.

Sabres Goal Scorers

Player Even Power Play Shorthanded Total
Vanek 2 3 2 7
Kotalik 2 2 0 4
MacArthur 1 2 0 3
Pominville 2 0 0 2
Spacek 0 1 0 1
Hecht 0 1 0 1
Stafford 1 0 0 1
Mair 1 0 0 1

Line Combinations

The Sabres haven't scored many even strength goals thus far but they have received balanced play while even strength.  All three of the top lines have nearly identical point totals so far.

# Lines Even-strength Points
Line 1 Vanek-Roy-Stafford 3G-2A-5P
Line 2 Paille-MacArthur-Pominville 3G-2A-5P
Line 3 Kotalik-Mair-Afinogenov 3G-3A-6P
Line 4 Peters-Ellis-Kaleta 0G-0A-0P

It has been a brilliant start to the season for the Sabres but their is still room for improvement.  On Thursday night the Sabres will meet a Minnesota Wild team that has allowed only 1.75 Goals/Game and they have not allowed a power play goal in 15 power play attempts.

The Sabres have three key players that are injured right now, Paul Gaustad, Tim Connolly and Jochen Hecht are all out of the lineup right now. I expect a big improvement offensively, both even strength and on the power play, when they return.  Hecht was centering Paille and Pominville before his injury, Connolly was expected to center Kotalik and Afinogenov and Gaustad was going to be moved to wing in the place of either Stafford or Afinogenov.  Those plans may have changed based on the play of the current group but only time will tell.