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Breaking Down the (lack of) Sabres Scoring

The NHL has seen a noticeable increase in scoring this season. Unfortunately, the Buffalo Sabres apparently haven’t gotten the message. While most fans across the NHL are enjoying this increase in scoring, Sabres fans are left frustrated with constant low scoring games. Teams average just under three goals for per game this season, but the Sabres are sitting in dead last with 2.2 goals per game. This is visualized below:

The top and bottom of the pack are as follows:

Islanders— 3.7

Lightning— 3.6

Golden Knights— 3.5

Maple Leafs— 3.5

Blues— 3.4

… …

Ducks— 2.6

Sharks— 2.6

Coyotes— 2.4

Sabres— 2.2

It’s really hard to win games with that kind of scoring. So what’s going wrong? Let’s look at some numbers and see how the Sabres are doing in different aspects regarding scoring, in an attempt to diagnose the issue.

We’ll start with the power play. Last seasons number one power play (24.5%) has not been up to the task this time around. The Sabres currently rank 30th in the NHL with a power play percentage of 12.8. Poor conversion on the power play causes the Sabres to miss out on a chunk of scoring that the rest of the league is getting. Shown below is the distribution of team power play goals. The Sabres are in second last with 10 power play goals in a league that averages 16.

The Sabres are not converting on their power play opportunities. In fact, they’re not doing well in converting any kind of opportunity. The Sabres also struggle with shooting percentage, scoring on just 7.1 percent of their shots, ranking 30th in a league that averages 9.3 percent. The Islanders own the top spot with a shooting percentage of 11.8 percent.

While the Sabres do have some solid goal scorers, they are not getting enough help from skaters outside their top guys. This is referred to as secondary scoring. Gone are the days of “top six”, replaced by the concept of “top nine”. The Sabres severely lack secondary scoring, with just 31 percent of their goals coming from players outside their top five goal scorers (30th in the NHL). The league average for this particular stat is 40 percent. The Sabres also aren’t getting help from their defensemen. The league average for percentage of goals scored by defensemen is 14.5% percent, with the Sabres coming in with a somehow not surprising 0 percent.

If we adjust secondary scoring to only consider forwards, we can visualize the lack of help on the Sabres by plotting offensive secondary scoring with defensive scoring, in terms of actual goals scored instead of percentages:

The graph speaks for itself. The Sabres are one of only four teams that are below average in both categories (the other three teams being San Jose, Boston, and Pittsburgh). A group of top guys can only do so much. Despite the awful power play, I believe that the lack of secondary/defensive scoring is the Sabres biggest issue. Whether it be from poor drafting, bad free agent signings, injuries, or all of the above, the Sabres are not putting secondary players on the ice that can support the top guys with the scoring of their own. Until that happens, the Sabres will continue to struggle to produce goals in a league that seems to be otherwise full of offense.