What we know about the Buffalo Sabres through 2 Weeks - 2021 NHL Season
Written by Austin Broad
Edited by Brandon Caputo
Photo Credit: Harry Scull Jr. /Buffalo News
Through 8 games played, the Sabres sit in 5th place in the East Division, just 1-point out of the 4th & final playoff spot behind the Pittsburgh Penguins (who are currently going through mid-season changes off the ice).
While the record (3-3-2) isn’t anything special, the team’s play has been very noteworthy. Once you get past the surface, and really examine how they’ve faired to start the season, there is a lot to be optimistic about.
The Sabres sit in 8th place at 5v5 CF%, 4th place in 5v5 xGF%, and have generated the 7th most high-danger scoring chances for at 5v5 this season. Add to that, they have given up the 7th fewest high-danger chances against and all the signs point to the Sabres being a good team this season (so far).
Unfortunately, early on the results haven’t been there. The Sabres struggle to score at 5v5 (only scoring 11 5v5 goals this season) and despite playing in a system that limits the other team’s chances, the Sabres have struggled to keep the puck out of their net.
When you break down the season through the first 7 games, there’s a lot of good, some bad and some really ugly but for the first time in years it seems that the Sabres have developed a style of hockey that can lead to sustained on-ice success.
*CF,SCF, HDCF, xGF data all provided by naturalstattrick.com
*breakout data provided by Advanced Stats (thechargingbuffalo.net)
*shots against and goals against provided by NHL.com
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The Sabres rookie has transitioned nicely from the World Juniors to the NHL and seems like he is already an everyday NHL player. Not only is the production there early on (3-points in six games) but the underlying numbers look good as well.
Through his six games, Cozens has a 53.33 CF% (generated 56 shot attempts for and 49 against while he is on the ice), a 62.79 SCF% (generated 27 scoring chances for and 16 against while he is on the ice), and a 65% high-danger chances for % (generated 13 HDCF and given up 7 against while he is on the ice) at 5v5.
"The Workhorse from Whitehorse" has been great and the Sabres look to have a prospect that can develop into a key part of this team’s future going forward.
Photo Credit: Geoff Burke-USA TODAY Sports
Jake McCabe-Rasmus Ristolainen
For years the Sabres have held onto Ristolainen in hopes that he can become a legitimate top defender and for years they have been disappointed.
This year, it seems that Krueger has finally put a system and a pairing into place that will allow Ristolainen to have the success that he needs to in order for the Sabres to be good.
Ristolainen has always been a productive player, he has 231 points in 500 games but his issue has been mental lapses in the defensive zone and poor decision making with his passes.
This year, playing with Jake McCabe, it seems that he’s more comfortable and confident with himself and is able to limit those mental lapses that have cost him and the team. Both players are playing within the Sabres system, getting the puck out and not trying to go end-to-end with the puck on their stick.
According to my tracking (via thechargingbuffalo.net) McCabe and Ristolainen rank 1st and 3rd among Sabres defenceman in controlled breakouts at 5v5 with 35 and 32 respectively. The Sabres are able to get the puck out of their end with ease when they are on the ice and don’t allow themselves to be hemmed in their own zone. If the two can continue to have this kind of success for an extended period of time, it’ll go along way to helping the team succeed this season.
Jack Eichel, Taylor Hall and Sam Reinhart are three top-tier players in the NHL, all are different varieties of “stars” in the league and the three form one of the most dominant lines in the entire NHL.
As a line, the three have played just under 70 minutes together at 5v5 and have staggering numbers. They have a 62.99 CF%, a 64.71 SCF% and a 70.59 HDCF%. They just simply dominate puck possession and shot attempts every shift they are together.
Photo Credit: Micheline Veluvolu
If the three can start to put the puck in the net, they have the potential to be the top line in the entire NHL and that is something that the Sabres haven’t been able to say in a long-time.
While the top line dominates puck possession, they and the entire team have not been able to produce a lot at 5v5.It’s awesome that all the underlying numbers are in their favour but at some point the only thing that matters is the results.
Over the last 2-games (4-3 W over WSH and 3-2 W over NYR) all but one of the Sabres goals have come on the powerplay, and the Reider goal barely counted as a 5v5 goal because a Sabres penalty just ended.
Photo Credit: Geoff Burke-USA TODAY Sports
Although it is concerning that the 5v5 production is abysmal, there’s reason to hope that they will turn a corner soon. With all the underlying and possession stats showing the Sabres are playing good hockey, their luck should turn around if they can continue this level of play up.
Photo Credit: usatoday.com/sports/nhl/sabres
One of the biggest issues the Sabres had before this season was their goalies. How would Ullmark and Hutton fair this season and would they be able to play well enough to elevate the Sabres to the next level.
Early on the answer is … no, the Sabres defensive system is one of the best in the league at limiting opposing team’s shot quality, yet the Sabres goalies continue to allow some weak ones on a nightly basis.
It’s early, and given unforeseen circumstances, it’s hard to say that both goalies have been 100% all season. But the numbers are concerning.
Buffalo gives up 27.7 shots against per game, 10th fewest in the league and is in the middle of the pack with 2.86 goals against per game.
The team’s save % is 0.896%, if the Sabres want to be a contender that number is going to have to come up, either through internal improvements or a trade because the Sabres can’t allow a potentially great season to be sunk by below average goaltending.