The Buffalo Sabres won seven games in seven attempts during the last bi-weekly period. In six attempts this period, they won just one game— finishing with a 1-3-2 record during the stretch. Despite five losses in their last five games, the Sabres are still on pace for 104 points this season. Winning ten in a row certainty allows for some room to fall.
It’s a tough drop to look at, but 104 points is still a great pace for a team that finished last in the NHL 3 out of the last 5 seasons. The question now is: will Buffalo do enough to address their recent struggles and maintain a solid pace for the rest of the season?
A big piece of the recent struggle has been the shooting. Buffalo saw a notable drop, averaging only 28.3 shots per game compared to 30.9 last bi-weekly period and 37.7 the period before that.
Adding to the trouble was the power play, with the Sabres going 1 for 14 (7.1%) over the last six games and bringing their overall power play percentage down to 18.1% for the season. This is an area where the Sabres really need to see an improvement. After finally earning a power play in a 2-2 game against the Flyers on Saturday, the Sabres not only failed to convert but also gave up a shorthanded goal which was the beginning of a very quick end to the contest.
Another item of note lately has been the lack of scoring. The Sabres scored 2.5 goals per game this bi-weekly period, their lowest since averaging 2.2 per game during the first bi-weekly period of the season. This lack of scoring can be attributed to the lack of secondary scoring from the offense lately. The top five scorers are currently: Jeff Skinner with 20, Jack Eichel and Jason Pominville with 9, Sam Reinhart with 8, and Conor Sheary with 6.
Out of these top five players, only two (Reinhart with 2 and Eichel with 4) have goals in December. During the recent losing streak, only three additional players have scored— with only one goal each. This is something that’s going to need to see some improvement if the Sabres want to maintain a solid points per game pace. Here’s the overall scoring breakdown:
A team as high in the standings as the Sabres should be doing better than floating around the NHL average in these categories. The Tampa Bay Lightning’s numbers here are 67 from the top five, 42 from the non-top five, and 13 from the defense. Toronto is at 60, 28, and 17. The Sabres clearly have some work to do on the offensive side of the puck.
My model (discussed here), which doesn’t consider the recent ten game winning streak nor the current five game losing streak, currently puts the Sabres at 88 points based on the following stats:
PK Pct: 80.7%
Starting Goalie in Top Ten svp: No (Hutton was in 11th using a 15+ games started filter to proxy for starters)
Percent of Games Scoring First: 53.3%
Shooting Percentage: 9.27%
Starting Goalie Games Started Percentage: 66.7%
Corsi For Percentage: 48%
This prediction is a fairly significant drop from the last prediction of 99 points last time, as the Sabres slipped in all categories. However it’s worth noting that Hutton was outside the top ten goalies in save percentage by .001. Had he made the cutoff, the prediction would’ve ended up at 93 points.
The winning streak bliss is gone, hopefully the losing streak will be behind us shortly, and then it’ll be time to see if the Sabres do in fact have what it takes to maintain a solid points per game pace and remain in the playoff conversation for the rest of the season.
My opinion is that they have enough of a cushion from the win streak and should be able to turn things around and maintain a solid enough pace, particularly when they get some players back from injury. Although it might end up being a wild card spot, especially due to the strength of the Atlantic Division, I think it’s reasonable to say the Sabres will end up in the playoffs. I’d put my money on them making it over not.
The currently tied-for-last LA Kings roll into town on Tuesday, which is the perfect chance for the Sabres to snap this streak and show what they are capable of. It should be a rather telling game.