The Sabres are not a good hockey team. Their terrific goaltending (come at me, Sabre_Rattler) has tricked us into thinking they may have a chance to make the playoffs. They don't. Not when their defense is this bad. How bad? Pretty bad, actually. Could be worse though. Let's take a look, shall we?
Depending on which fancystats site you fancy (see what I did there?), the Sabres give up the 5th or 6th most shots per game at 5v5. If you prefer Fenwick to Corsi, it's even worse. Only 3 teams take more faceoffs in the defensive zone at 5v5 and only two take fewer in the offensive zone.
And yet as bad as things are, the one thing this team seems to do well is keep shots to the outside. Yes, they get outshot every night (except against Colorado) but the shots tend not to come from dangerous areas. According to Corsica, the Sabres are 7th best in the league when it comes to scoring chances against. Natural Stat Trick is less generous, putting the Sabres in 17th place but still outperforming their overall possession numbers in that category (the two sites differ in how to categorize scoring chances. Neither site is specific about it but I would guess that perhaps Corsica only counts shots close to the goal while NST also counts shots from odd-man rushes).
The Sabres also give up fewer high danger chances (very close to goal) than 2/3 of the league. This would explain both how the Sabres aren't Avalanche-bad and why Robin Lehner--whose SV% on high-danger shots is not good--has been so successful this season.
The Sabres have four defensemen in the bottom 50 in CF% in the entire league. Josh Gorges is the third worstpossession defenseman in the NHL. Rasmus Ristolainen and Dmitry Kulikov are both in the bottom 15. If you like feeling depressed, switch to FF%. Those three guys are the 4th, 5th, & 6th worst defensemen in the league. Those same guys--and Jake McCabe-- are all ranked in the bottom 50 for scoring chances against per 60 min.
Rasmus Ristolainen has been on the ice for more scoring chances against than any other defender by 68 chances!!! Gorges & Ristolainen are both bottom 10 in the league for RelCF%--that is how many more shots per 60 relative to their teammates' CF%. Unsurprisingly, Gorges, Ristolainen, & McCabe are being challenged with the highest % of DZone starts on the team. Kulikov is being relatively sheltered and he's still putting up awful numbers.
In contrast, Cody Franson, Justin Falk, & Taylor Fedun are being sheltered but are pulling their weight relative to what is being asked of them. 3F--as I will henceforth call them-- all sport CF% above 50% and are top 10 in RelCF%. Notice I haven't mentioned Zach Bogosian yet. His numbers aren't good but they're not horrifically bad like the other guys in the top 4.
In summary, the Sabres give up waaaay too many shots. They seem to be able to limit the damage but that's no way to win hockey games night in and night out. Their top 4 are a disaster. Gorges is a tire fire on skates. Buying him out in the off-season has to be a priority. Just eat his contract and play Falk in his place. Kulikov isn't much better. Trade him on Wednesday to a team that hasn't figured out Corsi yet.
Ristolainen-- and to a lesser extent McCabe-- are both promising young defensemen but they're being asked to shoulder too much of the responsibility. Risto has played more minutes this season than Duncan Keith, Brent Burns, and Erik Karlsson. He's clearly not ready for this yet.
Franson might be an attractive trade candidate. See what you can get for him. I'm starting to come around on the idea of pursuing Kevin Shattenkirk in the offseason. They need a veteran minutes-eater to take the pressure off Risto. No other pending UFA fits the bill.
tl;dr At least we're not Avs fans.
Statistics courtesy of Corsica Hockey, Natural Stat Trick, & Puckalytics