The Buffalo Sabres’ power play has been, with all due respect to mid-90s SportsCenter, en fuego. Despite striking out at home against the Florida Panthers on Friday evening, the team is currently among the top in the league in power play conversion, scoring on 42-percent of their opportunities through the first five games. In fact, none of the teams performing better than Buffalo on the power play have played as many games; the Sabres’ early schedule is about as stacked as their efficiency with the man advantage.
Twitter is a-twitter with loads of charts demonstrating Buffalo’s effectiveness at even strength, and one cannot overstate the importance of these statistics. Most of the minutes in a game are played at five-on-five, so the teams that have sustained success are those who excel in this regard, and Sabres fans can find the home team’s logo floating in the positive positions on the various grids.
Still, there is something to be said about a good power play. Subjectively, the sense of retribution for the opponents wrongdoing is slightly more sweet. Objectively, a productive power play is an asset that playoff teams commonly share.
In the 2018-19 season, both the President’s Trophy winning Tampa Bay Lightning and the Eastern Conference Champion Boston Bruins held top-three spots in power play efficiency. The Bruins continued to dominate with the man-advantage in the postseason, scoring on 32.4 percent of its opportunities. They parleyed this success into an appearance in the Stanley Cup Finals.
It’s a common theme for Boston, who also led the 2018 playoffs in power play acumen. Second to Boston were the Cup-winning Washington Capitals. They scored at a 29.4 percent rate; the runner-up Vegas Golden Knights only scored on 18.5 percent of their chances.
Eleven teams finished the 2017-18 year with 100 points or more. Six of them were in the top-10 in power play scoring.
Clearly, an effective power play is a contributing factor to seasonal success, and it certainly makes a difference for the teams that go deep in the playoffs. At the moment, Buffalo is second in the league in goals (22) and goal differential (plus-8). Those eight goals match the power play output by the team in 19 opportunities.
The Sabres have also had a fairly successful penalty kill; the team has allowed only four goals in 15 shorthanded situations. Though they are in the middle-third of the league in kill percentage, Buffalo has allowed only one goal-against on home ice when down a player. Averaging only three times shorthanded per game, the disciplined approach is paying off for the club through its first five matchups.
While five-on-five remains the standard for predicting a team’s success, it has been demonstrated in recent history that organizations with solid special teams are among the best in the league. With Buffalo among the league leaders in goals scored and power play efficiency, the even-strength metrics tell a complete tale of the Sabres’ early success, and how important sustaining the effectiveness of their special teams will help to contribute if the club can continue their current pace.