With the start of the preseason less than three weeks away, we start our look at the ten things to watch for the 2011-2012 Buffalo Sabres season. We start with taking a look at the changes to the Sabres special teams.
The Buffalo Sabres special teams had a power play that finished ninth in the league with a 19.3% conversion rate and a penalty kill that finished 13th in the league with a kill rate of 83.0%. With a bunch of player and coaching changes during the offseason, what will the Sabres special teams look like at the beginning of April.
One aspect of the Sabres offense that was missing was the presence of a power play quarterback and the signing of Christian Ehrhoff should help that. Ehrhoff had six power play goals for Vancouver last season which led all Canucks defensemen and was tied for ninth in the league among defensemen. If he was plugged into the Sabres power play last year, Ehrhoff's six goals would have placed him in a tie for third with Tim Connolly and Brad Boyes, one of which is no longer with the team.
With the loss of Tim Connolly on the first power play unit and the propensity to roll four forwards and one defenseman, the Sabres starting power play unit on opening night should be Thomas Vanek, Drew Stafford, Derek Roy, and Jason Pominville with Ehrhoff as the lone defenseman. The second unit will probably showcase Nathan Gerbe, Tyler Ennis, Brad Boyes at forward and Jordon Leopold and Tyler Myers on defense.
When it comes to the penalty kill, the addition of Robyn Regher will help the Sabres on the backend as he was a key part of the Flames penalty kill last year. Both he and Jay Bouwmeester were the Flames leaders in time on ice. Regher averaged 3:12/game in penalty kill time which would have placed him first on the Sabres last season by a full :29/game.
While the Sabres have brought in a couple of players that can help the special teams on defense, changes with the assistant coaches will change the philosophies in how the team will approach their special teams. Brian McCutcheon was an assistant coach with the Sabres for 11 seasons and was major part of how the Sabres special teams and the power play especially, functioned on the ice.
Kevyn Adams was hired to replace McCutcheon and it could be interesting to see how the coaching philosophy will change with the power play. One of the main caveats of the Sabres power play was the inability to change on the fly as the players seemed to try and make things work their way rather than adapt to what the opponents' penalty kill was throwing at them.
The Sabres also struggled with giving up shorthanded goals last season as well. Buffalo's 13 shorthanded goals was third worst on the league last year. That was the most they have given up in the past four seasons when they gave up 13 during the President's Trophy season. Shoring up those shorthanded chances is something that will have to be changed as we head into this season.
The Sabres special teams has been one of the most consistent parts of the team as the penalty kill has finished in the top half of the league in each of the past three seasons and the power play has been in the top ten in the league in two of the past three seasons. How the team will adjust heading into this upcoming season is one thing to watch for this season.