After a thrilling 10-game winning streak, the Buffalo Sabres have come back to earth with a four-game losing streak. A lot of people understood the Sabres were not as good as the team that went on that winning streak and still had some key flaws on the roster.
One of those flaws is starting to make a significant impact on why the Sabres have hit the skids over the past week.
I wrote earlier today about how the center position has been struggling offensively, behind Jack Eichel. The lack of depth, however, isn’t all at center.
Outside of the first line, the Sabres are not getting production from their forward group.
Depth scoring has dried up
It’s no surprise to say that Jeff Skinner and Eichel have carried the Sabres scoring for the most part through 29 games. Recently, Sam Reinhart has joined the party and the defense has done a good job contributing as well.
The surprising part may be just how much the top line is carrying the water offensively.
Over the last 17 games Eichel, Skinner, and Reinhart have scored 24 goals, which outscores the other 11 forwards on the roster combined by one (23).
Over this recent four-game losing streak only Tage Thompson and Zemgus Girgensons have scored goals (both goals in the Lightning game) outside of the top line.
Some players who were supposed to be some key pieces with secondary scoring are in the middle of long scoring slumps simultaneously:
• Jason Pominville – one goal in his last 13 games played
• Casey Mittelstadt – two goals in his last 15 games played
• Kyle Okposo – one goal in his last 15 games played
• Vladimir Sobotka – no goals in his last 13 games played
• Evan Rodrigues – no goals in his last seven games played
• Patrik Berglund – one goal in his last 14 games played
• Conor Sheary – no goals in his nine games played
As I mentioned the defense has done a good job covering up these droughts, but the scoring from the blue line has dried up too.
You can see on the chart above how to start the season the depth was allowing the Sabres to pick up wins on nights when the top line didn’t carry the offense. You can also see how over the recent stretch that if Eichel, Skinner, and Reinhart don’t score multiple goals, the Sabres are probably not winning.
In particular, players like Okposo, Pominville, Berglund, Sheary, and Sobotka are the big disappointments. Over the first 15 games of the season, those five combined for 20 goals (1.33 goals per game) and over the last 14 they’ve combined for five goals (0.36 goals per game). To make matters worse, they’ve scored no goals in the last nine contests.
What’s the Solution?
So, how do they remedy this?
The first thing Phil Housley can try is shuffling the lines. Placing Pominville back on the top line with Eichel and Skinner would be a start. See if you can find the magic again with that trio to get the 35-year-old winger going again.
Reinhart has hit his stride with five goals in his last five games. The knock on the former second overall pick is he feeds off of Eichel. While that may be true to an extent, Reinhart, also started his scoring ways last season while Eichel was out with his ankle injury. He carried the Sabres offense during that stretch.
Housley could move Reinhart down on a line to see if he can jump-start Mittelstadt and Sheary. Reinhart should have the ability to generate offense for his own line. That trio is creative and could work well together to form a second scoring line that opponents would have to worry about.
The Sabres could always decide to give someone in the AHL the opportunity to come up and make an impact. Two players who would make sense for that would be C.J. Smith (seven goals and 18 points in the AHL) and Alex Nylander (six goals and 18 points). They’ve both played well this season in the AHL for the Rochester Amerks. One of the two could slot in as a top nine winger and bring some more speed to the lineup.
The counterpoint to that idea, is how do you make room on the roster?
It’s not really that difficult.
The Sabres could waive Remi Elie. Although he’s brought energy when he’s in the lineup, he hasn’t given much beyond that.
They could decide to just wait for the slumps to end. Berglund tends to be a slow starter over his career. While Okposo and Sheary have both been streaky scorers throughout their careers.
The 10-game winning streak bought a lot of rope for the Sabres, but this scoring trend can’t continue much longer. They’ll start to see their comfortable playoff cushion dwindle in the standings if they can’t find the production to win games consistently.