With 1.94 expected goals per game, the Buffalo Sabres continue to spin their wheels offensively.
Looking at the four lines that Ralph Krueger rolls out on a nightly basis, it is clear that this just is not working.
How does someone fix the scoring issues? Simple. Think outside the box and get a little creative.
The first player you can get creative with is forward Victor Olofsson.
In 76 career NHL games, Victor Olofsson has scored 29 goals. Not a bad development for a Sabres team that has struggled to score, right?
Diving in deeper, it is becoming clear that Olofsson’s performance might be a microcosm of a bigger issue.
With 19 goals on the power play since making his NHL debut on March 28, 2019, Olofsson ranks fourth among all goal scorers in the NHL. Only David Pastrnak (23), Leon Draisaitl (21) and Auston Matthews (20) have more power play goals.
Basic math comprehension puts us at 10 even-strength goals scored for Olofsson in 76 games.
Those aforementioned 10 even-strength goals rank Olofsson tied for 241st since making his NHL debut.
Breaking it down simply, 65.5% of Olofsson’s career goals have come on the power play.
Despite being tethered to Jack Eichel and Sam Reinhart for 23.9% of his even-strength time on-ice this season, Olofsson has only managed one even strength goal in 16 games.
It is clear that Victor Olofsson and his shot are borderline deadly with the man advantage. Buffalo has a weapon that not many other NHL franchises can match-up with.
When it comes to five-on-five though, it might be time to start wondering if pairing Eichel and Reinhart with a more effective option at even strength could be the key to opening up the offense a little more.
The player that might be the answer for Eichel and Reinhart? Jeff Skinner.
Before you rage quit the article in front of you, yes – Jeff Skinner has zero goals scored this season. Yes, that is very bad.
Now that we have come to an agreement, let’s take a deeper look.
In his NHL career, Jeff Skinner has scored 258 goals. 205 of those goals have come at even strength. That would break down to 79.4% of Skinner’s career goals being scored five-on-five.
Furthermore, since making his NHL debut on October 10, 2010, Skinner ranks seventh in the NHL in even strength goals scored.
Skinner finds himself behind Alexander Ovechkin (270), Patrick Kane (241), John Tavares (231), Steven Stamkos (224), Brad Marchand (217) and Max Pacioretty (207) in a list, according to NHL.com, that includes 2,158 players.
While Skinner has struggled to score this season, he has not been given much of a chance to prove his worth offensively.
Skinner has been given 43.5% of his starts in the offensive zone.
Victor Olofsson on the other hand? 56.7% of his starts come in the offensive zone.
Bump Skinner into a bit bigger of an offensive zone start and you would be hard pressed to believe that you would not see improved goal scoring from him.
Skinner currently averages 11:56 even strength time on ice per game.
Olofsson sits at 14:42 even strength time on ice per game.
Again, flip the script and see what happens to Skinner’s goal scoring numbers.
Skinner’s shots on goal this season are coming from an average of 23.1 feet from the net, which is highlighted below by a MoneyPuck heat map.
Furthermore, 72.1% of Skinner’s shots this season have been on net. An underrated stat when the name of the game is generating quality shots.
According to MoneyPuck, Jeff Skinner leads all of the Sabres with 1.08 even strength goals expected per 60 minutes. That is a great sign for a slumping former 40 goal scorer who has yet to score a goal this season.
Skinner knows where he needs to be to score goals and he surely knows how to score goals. Skinner just needs to be given the opportunity.
The logical solution appears to be to cut Victor Olofsson’s five-on-five ice time, while keeping his power play minutes up, in lieu of Jeff Skinner getting more even strength time on ice.
What is the worst that will happen - you won’t score even strength goals? The Sabres are already doing that, for the most part. There is nothing to lose.