One of the concerns going into this season for the Buffalo Sabres was if they added enough offense to their roster. They struggled to generate quality scoring chances for the majority of last season at 5 on 5.
At the beginning of the season, it looked like they improved in this area, but over the last few weeks, the problem has resurfaced. The scoring has dried up at even strength and they’ve hit their first losing streak of the season.
Last season, the Sabres were at the bottom of the league in shot quality at 5 on 5 and through 15 games this season they find themselves in a similar place. This year they have put up a 2.09 xGF/60 which ranks them 23rd in the league, according to Evolving Hockey’s score-adjusted 5 on 5 data. That’s a minimal improvement over last season when they ended the season 28th in that shot quality metric at 5 on 5.
The 5 on 5 scoring has only improved minimally over last season to this point as well. They’ve registered a 2.33 GF/60 (20th) and the previous season they put up a 2.27 GF/60 (21st). Some teams can overcome their inability to generate high-quality shots with strong shooting talent on the roster. A good example of this is what the Winnipeg Jets did last season. They were 24th in xGF/60 but were 11th in team shooting percentage. That allowed them to finish 11th in GF/60 at 5 on 5.
Unfortunately, the Sabres don’t have the same shooting talent that a club like the Jets has on their roster. They were 27th in the league in team shooting percentage last season (7.21%) and currently sit 20th going into play tonight (7.90%).
Based on how the Sabres roster is constructed they need to generate quality scoring chances to be able to produce offensive and win with consistency. Now, the Sabres can overcome this deficiency in their game if they can execute a low-event style of hockey. That appears to be the plan for Ralph Krueger. Early in the season, it was working, but as of late, the defensive breakdowns have become common again. If they can get that playing style back on track, it’s possible they can overcome the poor shot quality.
The good news is that a few of the Sabres’ best players are having some struggles at 5 on 5 to start the season. Jack Eichel, Rasmus Dahlin, and Sam Reinhart have all had ups and downs through the first month of the season. They’ll likely start to find some consistency soon and help improve the even strength scoring.
This roster still screams for the need to add another top six forward. It’s unlikely that Jason Botterill is going to venture down that road this early in the season. Therefore, the Sabres are going to not only need to see some improvement from key players I mentioned above but others at the bottom of the roster as well. Players such as Jimmy Vesey, Vladimir Sobotka, and Victor Olofsson have not given the club much at 5 on 5. That’ll need to change here at some point for the offensive output to improve.
If the Sabres can improve their shot quality as the season goes on, it’ll likely improve the odds of them being in playoff contention at the end of the season. As I said, they can still be a postseason contender without improving in that area, but that route is not an easy one to travel.