The Buffalo Sabres’ season is still young, but even with a small sample size - only 13 games under the team’s belt so far - it’s not a bad idea to look at what’s going right, and what isn’t quite going the Sabres’ way, at this point.
Weakness: The Power Play
The Sabres aren’t the worst in the league by any means on the man advantage, but they aren’t exactly the best, either. Entering Thursday night’s games, the Sabres were 17th in the NHL with a 20.0% power play. (All statistics are accurate as of Thursday afternoon).
The Sabres have had 45 power-play opportunities, one of the most among NHL teams; but they’ve scored on only nine of those chances. At home, the Sabres are slightly better on the man advantage (23.8%) than on the road (16.7%). But it’s hard not to focus on those chances they’ve had a man advantage and it looked like the other team was the one with the power play.
Consider the game against the Vegas Golden Knights in mid-October, when the Sabres were given a whopping EIGHT power-play opportunities. They failed to capitalize on any of them, and the Golden Knights scored once shorthanded. On a handle of those power plays, the Sabres didn’t even register a shot on goal.
Entering Thursday night, the Sabres had six players who had scored a power-play goal thus far this season, including Conor Sheary, who’s accounted for a third of the team’s PPGs.
Weakness: A Full 60 - and More
You always hear players and coaches talk about playing a full 60 minutes, and this is an area the Sabres can improve in. Take Tuesday night’s overtime loss to Calgary, for instance. The Sabres went through 12:34 of the third period before they registered their first shot on goal of the period. They managed to hold onto the narrow one-goal lead despite that, but in the end, the lack of effort came back and bit them.
It was almost the opposite in the recent game against Columbus. The Sabres had a strong start to the third period with a pair of goals from Jason Pominville and Casey Mittelstadt to tie the game, but things fell flat from there and Artemi Panarin took just 31 seconds of overtime to give the Blue Jackets the extra point.
Strength: Hutton is the Man
Carter Hutton has (mostly) been a gem in net for the Sabres. He’s pulled off some undoubtedly impressive saves and kept the Sabres in some games for sure. Hutton has been carrying most of the workload, with Linus Ullmark appearing in three games thus far. But Hutton has risen to expectation and had a 2.94 GAA and .910 save percentage entering Thursday’s game against the Senators.
From the stick save in the Calgary game, to the 3-on-0 save against the Rangers, Hutton has made some show-stopping moves in this young season so far.
Strength: The First Line
The Sabres’ first line of Jeff Skinner, Jack Eichel and Jason Pominville has had no trouble producing so far this season. Skinner leads the team in goals (6), EIchel leads in assists (8) and both have 12 points each. Pominville has ten points on the season entering Thursday.
Combined, the trio has two power-play goals and eight power-play points.
Take the October 27th game against Columbus as just one example of their success. Skinner scored, with Eichel assisting and Pominville on the ice. Later, Pominville tallied, with Eichel assisting and Skinner on the ice. Casey Mittelstadt then scored a power-play goal, assisted by Pominville and Skinner and yep, you guessed it - Eichel was on the ice too.
Or take the 5-1 win over the Kings earlier in the month of October. Skinner, of course, registered a hat trick. Pominville had a goal of his own, and assisted on two of Skinner’s goals. Eichel assisted on Pominville’s goal as well as Skinner’s first and third goals of the night.
They’ve been a dynamite line together with their offensive contributions and should be exciting to watch as the season continues.
At any rate, it’s only a handful of games into the season, so any talk of strengths or weaknesses is based on a small sample size - but there are certainly some good things to look toward, and room for improvements in other areas, as the season goes on.