Bad news: The Buffalo Sabres empirically projected point total decreased from the last bi-weekly review. Good news: it decreased by a single point. With only one game remaining in October, the Sabres on pace for 97 points.
It’s still early enough to call it early, but it’s been a long time since the Sabres have been considered a contender at the end of October.
Breaking down the team performance into goals for and against (note that these stats do include empty net goals, so may be skewed slightly), the Sabres balanced an increase in goals against per game (went from 2.6 to 3.0 after a GAA of 3.33 for this bi-weekly period) with their own increase in goals for per game (increased from 2.2 to 2.7 after a GFA of 3.17 this bi-weekly period.
A big part of the increased goals for per game has been the shots. The Sabres had a rough start to the season but have seen significant improvement in the shooting department. The first bi-weekly period saw the Sabres getting an average of 26.4 shots per game. This period has seen an average of 33.8 shots per game, bringing the overall average to 30.5. Shots against also improved, decreasing from 34.6 per game to 31.6 per game thanks to a bi-weekly period average of 29.2 per game.
Decreased shots against per game combined with increased goals against per game can only mean one thing- the saving percentage has fallen a bit. That said, it’s still at solid place. Carter Hutton currently stands at .905 (8 games) whereas Linus Ullmark is at .935 (3 games). I still think it’s a bit early to compare the two goalies, at least statistically, but the whispers have already started about Ullmark seeing more time. Either way, there’s still plenty of reason to be confident with both goalies.
Jumping back to the goal scoring, here’s a look at secondary scoring:
The Sabres continue to see solid offensive production from defensemen while adding some non-top-five forward scoring as well. Their top-five scorers are Skinner (6), Pominville (5), Eichel (3), Sheary (3), Okposo (3), and then several players tied for fifth with one goal. Continued production from the non-top-five forwards is key moving forward. Players like Casey Mittelstadt and Evan Rodrigues can really make a difference here. Perhaps Casey can start to see some solid numbers now that he’s gotten that first goal of the season out of the way, as despite a slow start to his stat line he has looked pretty solid thusfar.
The PK didn’t move much, posting a 75% for the bi-weekly period moving the overall average from 77% to 76%. The powerplay decreased from 22% to 21% after posting 20% for the bi-weekly period. The NHL currently averages 79.3% for the PK and 20.8% for the powerplay.
Overall, still plenty of reason to be optimistic. The team is battling back in games that would’ve been declared over before the third period started last season, and they are stringing wins together as well. Next article, with a little more data, I’ll add views of their comeback prowess and win/loss streaks compared to last year.
For now, I plugged the Sabres current stats into the model I created to predict NHL point totals (discussed here) to see where the fancy stats have them ending up. The following stats were plugged into the model:
PK Pct: 75.8%
Starting Goalie in Top Ten svp: No
Percent of Games Scoring First: 45.5%
Shooting Percentage: 8.94%
Starting Goalie Games Started Percentage: 73%
Corsi For Percentage: 49.84%
Given these stats, the model predicted 84 points for the Sabres. Quite a bit lower than where they currently stand on an empirical basis (97 points), but still much better than where things ended up last year.
After next bi-weekly period, the Sabres will be sitting at the 1/5 mark of the season, which is right about when it’ll be time to stop saying “it’s early”. Should be interesting to see if they can maintain their current pace until then.