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Sabres’ First-Period Scoring Woes

Buffalo having trouble scoring in the opening 20

NHL: Buffalo Sabres at Detroit Red Wings Rick Osentoski-USA TODAY Sports

I was scrolling through the comments on my recent Sabres-Blues gameday preview piece, and found this comment, from user NJSabre:

“I just checked the Sabres-Blues game and, as usual, our boys went scoreless in the first period. Anyone check how many games this season the Sabres did not score a goal in the first period? With that dynamic at work, essentially, Buffalo has only 40—not 60—minutes in which to win a game. On the other hand, often the opposing teams easily score a goal or two in the first period, which means they have 60 minutes to rack up goals, not 40. This is a losing formula.”

Reading this comment, I thought it was a fair question, and something worth giving a look into. So I did just that.

Of the 30 games the Sabres have played so far this season (through December 10), they haven’t scored a first-period goal in an astounding 17 of those games. Of those 17 games, Buffalo has gone on to lose 13.

They’ve scored just 15 first-period goals in 30 games.

Those goals have come from:

  • Jason Pominville (3)
  • Justin Bailey (2)
  • Jack Eichel (2)
  • Evander Kane (2)
  • Kyle Okposo (2)
  • Ryan O’Reilly (2)
  • Zemgus Girgensons (1)
  • Sam Reinhart (1)

As the DBTB commenter points out, failing to score in the first period, even once, puts Buffalo immediately at a disadvantage. Instead of playing that 60-minute game, you’re now left with just 40 minutes to not only score but to win the game.

On the flip side, the Sabres have often allowed the opposing team to score at least once in the first period, which again, puts them at a disadvantage. The opponent has scored in the first period of 21 games against the Sabres so far this season, for a total of 31 goals against in the opening twenty minutes of a game.

In games this season where Buffalo failed to score in the first period, but their opponent scored at least once, the Sabres have lost nearly every time (12/13).

Of course, it doesn’t mean the Sabres can’t come back, or that it’s insurmountable. On the same line of thought, scoring in the first period won’t guarantee a win. But it certainly sets the team up for a better chance of success and makes the last 40 minutes of the game very different.

How does this compare to last season?

Well, through 30 games last season, the Sabres didn’t score a first-period goal in 17 games – the same as this season. And in the same route, they went on to lose 13 of those 17 games.

Last season through 30 games, the Sabres had scored 18 first period goals, only a few more than this season. But they’d also only allowed 18 first-period goals against, compared to 31 this season. That’s not insignificant.

Looking at the season as a whole, Buffalo scored 64 first-period goals last season, against the 62 they allowed. They failed to score a first-period goal in 35 of 82 games; of those 35 games, they lost 27.

In games where Buffalo didn’t score in the first period, but the opposing team did: the Sabres lost more than half the time (15 of 26 games.)

It’s hard to look at these numbers and not see the importance of scoring in that first twenty minutes, and of holding the opposing team off.

The Sabres need to find their jump early. It may not guarantee a win, but it puts them in a better position to play a full 60 minutes, as compared to trying to battle back and win a game in 40 minutes, or sometimes even 20.

If a team can’t score in the first period, combined with allowing the opposing team to score, it truly is, as NJSabre said, a losing formula.