The Buffalo Sabres break came to an end yesterday afternoon when the team returned to the ice for practice. The coaching and management staff had 11 days to evaluate the team during the time off. In practice yesterday and today we found out what some things they landed on in an attempt to get the team back on track.
One of those decisions appears to be taking 23-year-old defenseman Lawrence Pilut out of the lineup again. Pilut had a turnover in their last game against the Vancouver Canucks that resulted in a goal against. Meaning that in predictable Phil Housley logic he has to come out of the lineup.
It’s reached the point now where the continuous scratching of Pilut is becoming indefensible. The positive impact he has on the team when he plays is backed up by your eyes and analytical numbers. He’s the second-best puck-moving defenseman on the Sabres and is likely the third-best defenseman on the entire roster right now.
This doesn’t need to be that hard.
You can see on the charts above the impact that the Swedish native has on the team in terms of shot rates.
Pilut ranks third on the team in even strength goals above replacement and first amongst all defensemen on the club. He’s also tied for 33rd among all defensemen in the NHL in EV GAR (5.5) according to Evolving Hockey. He also is the best on the roster in expected goal differential.
I could continue with how he’s at the top of nearly every analytical data point on the team, but I’ll move on to the impact he has on specific teammates.
It appears as though Pilut is the key to unlocking Rasmus Ristolainen’s positive 5 on 5 impacts. Away from Pilut, Ristolainen carries a 45.82 CF% and a 53.99 CF% with Pilut.
Here are some more interesting 5 on 5 stats from Natural Stat Trick on this pairing:
Ristolainen without Pilut
- -78 (43.25 SCF%) in scoring chances for and against.
- -24 (45.12 HDCF%) in high-danger scoring chances for and against.
Ristolainen with Pilut
- +27 (57.05 SCF%) in scoring chances for and against.
- +13 (60.32 HDCF%) in high-danger scoring chances for and against.
Not only is Housley not helping his team by putting the best possible lineup on the ice, but he’s also risking hurting the future development of Pilut. By continually taking the young defender out of the lineup when he makes one mistake, it’s going to eventually start to change Pilut’s mentality.
The recent trend indicates that as long as he doesn’t make mistakes he’ll stay in the lineup. Instead of taking chances with passing to get his team up the ice; he could start to play a safer game. Just get the puck out of the defensive zone going high and hard off the glass, as opposed to trying to spring one of his forwards on a rush.
Housley is taking the creativity out of one of his best puck-moving defenders. He preaches a style of play that has his blue line activate and take some chances to get up in the play offensively. Then he sends signals to a player who is one of the best at this that if he makes any mistakes he’ll sit.
Not to mention he’ll be benched in favor of Matt Hunwick.
They need to take the same approach with Pilut, that they’re taking with Rasmus Dahlin. Both players are going to make mistakes from time to time. However, the majority of their game is going be full of plays that positively impact their team. They generate offense and get the puck out of their defensive zone with good outlet passing.
There’s not 100 percent confirmation that Pilut will be out of the lineup tomorrow in Columbus at this point, but all the writing on the wall point to him being replaced by Hunwick.
Its an inexcusable decision. It’s also a bad time for the coach to make decisions that don’t help his teams win games when they’re at a point in the season where they have very little margin for error.