The power play for the Buffalo Sabres has been a hot-button topic this season. They’ve gone from the top team in the league with the man advantage to ranked 30th entering play tonight. We’ve seen the team score power-play goals in three straight games now and they’ve picked up points in all three.
A recent article from Calvin about Jack Eichel on this site sent me down this path to dig into some numbers in regards to the Sabres power play. We all know the ineptitude of the power play has been an issue all season but is it a bigger issue than we’re giving it credit for?
You could play devil’s advocate here and say the top-ranked unit masked some deficiencies on the roster. That is absolutely possible, but perhaps not to a huge degree. Let me lay out some numbers here on three particular players comparing this season and last season.
Also, before I go any further I pulled these numbers from the awesome site Hockey Reference and the numbers are generated off of an 82 game pace.
All right let’s start with the main guy around these parts. Some people are down on the season the Eichel is having. He’s received some criticism for being lazy and not living up to the hype of the contract that is going to hit next season.
What if I told you Eichel is on pace to have a better season at even strength than he was on pace for last season? Check out the numbers:
• 2016-17 82 game pace even strength – 19 goals | 26 assists | 45 points
• 2017-18 82 game pace even strength – 21 goals | 29 assists | 50 points
• 2016-17 82 game pace power play – 13 goals | 19 assists | 32 points
• 2017-18 82 game pace power play – 0 goals | 8 assists | 8 points
When you include all situations (including shorthanded points) Eichel is on pace for 21 goals, 42 assists and 63 points this season. The 63 point total, of course, is less than the 77 point pace he was on last season. However, like I pointed out above he’s having a better even strength season. If the Sabres were better with the man advantage and you gave him three-quarters of the 2016-17 points he was a pace for on the power play. He would be on pace for 31 goals and 76 points if he didn’t add another shorthanded point all season. Even if you gave him half of the 16-17 power play points he would be at a 69 point pace this season.
Up next is a forward who has had a rough go of things through the first 30 games in Kyle Okposo. Like Eichel, you’ll see that Okposo is doing some things better at even strength than last season but again is hurt by the poor power play.
• 2016-17 82 game pace even strength – 9 goals | 29 assists | 38 points
• 2017-18 82 game pace even strength – 11 goals | 14 assists | 25 points
• 2016-17 82 game pace power play – 15 goals | 13 assists | 28 points
• 2017-18 82 game pace power play – 3 goals | 8 assists | 11 points
Now, Okposo’s numbers don’t jump at you like Eichel’s. He’s having a down season compared to the 63 point pace he played at last season. That being said there are some takeaways here.
Okposo is on pace to score more goals at even strength, but his assists are down. Also, the power play numbers are down considerably. The 29-year-old forward is on pace for 14 goals and 36 points this season. If you use the same exercise we used with Eichel. Giving Okposo three-quarters of the power play points of last season he’d be on pace for 22 goals and 47 points. Those numbers don’t look so bad now. Just for the sake of consistency if you give him half of the points he was on pace for he would be on a 19 goal and 42 point pace this season.
Last up is Sam Reinhart. The numbers don’t change a lot here for Reinhart except in one area. Also, I use Reinhart’s actual numbers here for the 2016-17 season since he played every game.
• 2016-17 82 game actual numbers even strength – 9 goals | 8 assists | 17 points
• 2017-18 82 game pace even strength – 5 goals | 8 assists | 13 points
• 2016-17 82 game actual numbers power play – 8 goals | 22 assists | 30 points
• 2017-18 82 game pace power play – 8 goals | 8 assists | 16 points
In Reinhart’s case, we could be seeing a situation where the inflated assist numbers actually hid some things in his game. A possibility I laid out in the beginning of this. He’s having a similar season at even strength and on the power play as well outside of the assists. The former second overall pick is on pace for 13 goals and 29 points this season. A far cry from the 43 and 47 point season we’ve seen the past two campaigns.
At the end of the day you can draw up the power play is absolutely hurting the Sabres this season with individual numbers and in the standings. I’m sure we’d see similar traits if I dove into the numbers of Ryan O’Reilly and Rasmus Ristolainen.
If the man advantage was respectable would the Sabres be in a playoff spot? Probably not. Would they have a few more wins and not be so far out of the playoff picture? Probably.