The Buffalo Sabres power play has been considered a disappointment for the majority of this season. They enter tonight’s game with the New York Rangers ranked 19th in Power Play efficiency. While the unit has been ineffective in accomplishing its goal (scoring). It may not be accurate to say that the power play unit overall is bad.
I spent some time going through Meghan Hall’s data on team power play metrics, shooting metrics from Natural Stat Trick and some zone entry data from Corey Sznajder. My goal was to try to pinpoint what exactly is and has gone wrong for the Sabres with the man advantage.
The drop pass to Jack Eichel on zone entries on the power play has been sticking point for fans this season. It takes a few extra seconds off the clock to orchestrate and when it doesn’t work that makes it all the more frustrating.
The reality of the situation for most of the season on the first power-play unit, Eichel, was their best and honestly only option at carrying the puck into the zone with possession. I’ve mentioned in other articles I’ve written how the Sabres have limitations in that area on their roster and Eichel is the best at it.
The issue that brings up is it allows their opponent to prepare for the entry because the majority of the time Eichel will be the one carrying it in.
Recently the Sabres have been able to mix up their entries by adding Casey Mittelstadt and Rasmus Dahlin back onto the top unit. Outside of Eichel, those two are the other players that excel at entering the zone with possession. They’ve limited their “drop pass” strategy since changing up the unit at the beginning of February.
Admittedly, I don’t have a lot of recent data to provide proof in the numbers, but watching the games you notice how they’ve used Dahlin and Mittelstadt as the players to carry in the puck from time to time to begin the setup.
Now that we’ve discussed entry into the offensive zone, let’s dive into the meat of the power play. Right away a few interesting numbers jump off the chart below.
The first is that the Sabres are second in the league in seconds per shot (59.9). That means that the fan yelling “SHOOOT” during the game will be happy. They generate a high shot rate on the power play, behind only the Toronto Maple Leafs.
This is good news because the more shots you generate the more likely you are to score goals. Here’s the bad news; they’re 19th in the league in minutes per goal (9.8) and 28th in the league in shooting percentage (10.2%).
We’ve found our problem. The Sabres generate a lot of shots but don’t score on them. This discovery is an overall team problem. They don’t have enough “shooters” on the roster that can beat an NHL goaltender at a high rate.
This is one of the reasons adding a player like Victor Olofsson and his elite-level shot to the Sabres power play may be a good idea sooner rather than later.
Going back to the shooting of current players, Eichel’s inaccuracy on the power play is some of the problem. He’s generated 94 shot attempts this season with the man advantage, but only 51 of those shots made it to the net. Having your top shooter in terms of volume and likelihood to score, hit the net only 54 percent of the time is an issue. It doesn’t give the opportunity for a rebound chance, could result in a turnover, and at times will force the power play to reset in the zone.
They may want to consider at times having Eichel play on his off-wing to change things up. He becomes more of a playmaker on that side and still has the ability to score as we saw against the Winnipeg Jets.
Change is Good
The changes in putting Mittelstadt and Dahlin on the top unit should help alleviate this issue as well. Dahlin is a 12 percent shooter with the man advantage and Mittelstadt gets 64 percent of his shot attempts on goal. It also gives the opponent two more players to worry about as legitimate threats. We’ve seen both pot a goal with the man advantage over the last week.
It also should be mentioned how putting Evan Rodrigues on the second power-play unit has been an upgrade as well. He’s a volume shooter but converts at an 11.7 percent rate with the man advantage this season.
Hopefully, you’re picking up a trend here with Mittelstadt and Dahlin. Since the beginning of February, the Sabres power play has gone five for 16 (31.3%) by making a few changes and putting those two on the top unit has been a big reason why.
Their additions also allow the Sabres to add another dynamic in puck distribution. For the most part this season, they’ve moved the puck around at the top of the umbrella trying to set up that one-timer shot.
Mittelstadt and Dahlin open the window for more cross-ice passes to speed up puck movement and get the defense moving out of position, a tactic the Sabres have not utilized for a lot of the season. They both have the talent and vision to get pucks into small windows.
Their ability to be able to find soft spots in the defense and move around the zone adds some uncertainty for defending players. This again would pull players out of position at times to create higher scoring opportunities.
Credit to Phil Housley for recognizing some changes was needed on the power play and utilizing the talent of younger players on his roster to help fix the issue. On the chart below you’ll see the shooting percentage on the power play has started to creep back towards the league average.
As well as their goals per goals per 60.
So, at the end of the day, the power play may not be as bad as it looks on the surface. They need to start capitalizing on their chances and continue to produce shots at a high rate. That combo will go a long way to making the unit efficient again.
The Sabres play so many close games that they need their power play to effective to give them the opportunity to win tight games. They’ve started to get a correction in save percentage from their goaltenders over the last few games and if their power play can follow, it’ll be good for their hopes of playing into the postseason.