Nine games into the 2018-19 season and the Buffalo Sabres are already beginning to carve out their spot in the overall map of the National Hockey League.
For better or for worse, this edition of the Buffalo Sabres most certainly seems a little different than the last few that we have seen.
For starters, their nine game opening stretch is the best this franchise has seen since the 2011-12 edition of the Sabres started out 6-3-0 in their first nine games.
Seven years ago, almost to the day – what a ride it has been.
When watching this season begin to unfold, there are both good and bad habits we have seen either developing or unfortunately showing back up.
In both wins and losses, the Sabres are consistent – we’ll talk about that in a minute.
The big issue here is an apparent lack of consistency across the board throughout both those wins and losses.
In five victories this season, Buffalo has averaged 3.8 goals per game. In those same five victories, Buffalo has allowed only 1.2 goals per game.
Not bad, something that might be hard to sustain but it is a good start.
On the flip side, in four losses this season, Buffalo has averaged 1.5 goals per game. Defensively, they have allowed 4.75 goals per game.
That is the ugly underbelly of a hockey team that no one ever wants to see.
To further re-affirm those aforementioned statistics, Buffalo has scored 22 goals this season, which is tied for 18th in the league. 15 of those 22 goals have been scored in victories.
That is another statistic that is not sustainable, solely because it will lead to another very long season if Buffalo cannot find a way to get more pucks past opposing goaltenders.
With five goals in nine games, Jeff Skinner has been doing his part.
With three goals in nine games, Jack Eichel has been doing his part.
It is early but the struggles continue to come from the same place – the third and fourth lines.
Forwards Evan Rodrigues, Zemgus Girgensons, Casey Mittelstadt, Johan Larsson, Tage Thompson and Remi Elie have all combined for zero goals so far this season.
While these players have not individually struggled, their inability to score has put the Sabres in a tough spot already.
Then again, it might be a fear of taking a shot. Of the six aforementioned players, only two have averaged more than 1 shot per game (Mittelstadt - 14 shots in 9 games and Rodrigues - 17 shots in 9 games).
Players like Skinner, Eichel and Sheary can help carry a team offensively but even the best of offensively talented players are bound to have an off night.
It feels like we are listening to a broken record here but the Sabres need to find bottom six chemistry in order to turn more of those blowout losses into close victories.
The leash for complimentary players might get a little tighter as the season grows older. This bottom six might not have much time to prove their worth if the team’s Jekyll-and-Hyde wins and losses continue.