The Buffalo Sabres have compiled an impressive 3-1-0 record so far during the 2015-16 preseason. Of course this is during the preseason where, similar to the TV show Whose Line Is It Anyway?, the points don’t matter.
Teams are focused on their talent pool to see who will earn an opportunity and they are less concerned with a winning record. However, the Sabres have been bad, historically bad, during the past two seasons. Given their regular season struggles, the Sabres’ preseason record is at the very least a step in the right direction.
Head coach Dan Bylsma has rotated players in and out of his lineup during the preseason as he studies the club’s young talent and veterans. Bylsma noted that the last few preseason games would be more representative of his club’s regular season roster but it is still a work in progress.
The Sabres on paper are a very different team than they have been the past two seasons and they are beginning to show this change during the preseason. Here are two storylines that have emerged during the preseason that will be important as Buffalo heads toward the regular season.
[See Also: How They Were Built: 2015-16 Buffalo Sabres]
Sabres’ Offense Showing Signs of Improvement in Preseason
In four preseason games, the Sabres have scored 17, yes you read that right, 17 goals. Again, the level of competition is much different during the regular seasons than it is in the preseason yet this goal total is encouraging. The Sabres likely won’t be able to replicate this 4.25 goals per game average during the regular season but if they can score goals at half this pace it will be an improvement.
Buffalo had more downs than ups in the past two seasons especially on offense. For the past two seasons, the Sabres owned the NHL’s worst statistics on offense. During the 2013-14 season, the Sabres scored 150 goals which was an average of 1.83 goals per game. Similarly, the Sabres managed 153 goals last season good for an average of 1.87 goals per game.
There were many low points during the past two seasons but the bottoming out occurred in January 2015. During that span the Sabres compiled an abysmal record of 0-12-0. Buffalo’s offense struggled in a glaringly obvious fashion contributing to their poor performance during this stretch. The Sabres scored only 18 goals in January 2015 while their opponents scored 51 goals against them.
So far during the preseason, the Sabres are a completely different team on offense. In four preseason games, Buffalo has scored almost as many goals as they scored in the entire month of January 2015. While it remains to be seen how this translates to the regular season, the Sabres are demonstrating their offensive potential during the preseason.
According to Fox Sports, Tyler Ennis is leading the charge for the Sabres with five points in two games. Most of Ennis’ points were tallied during the Sabres’ 6-4 win against the Ottawa Senators on Saturday night where he scored a hat trick. He played on a line with Jack Eichel and Evander Kane during that game and he’s showing why many believe this will be a big season for Ennis.
Sabres Preseason Struggle in Goals Allowed
While the offense is showing signs of promise during the preseason, the Sabres’ ability to keep the puck out of their own net has left much more to be desired. In their four preseason games, Buffalo has allowed 15 goals which places the club in the bottom five in the NHL in this statistic. With the Sabres’ well-documented regular season struggles in goals allowed, their preseason struggles in this area make it an important storyline heading into the regular season.
This won’t surprise you but Buffalo’s historically poor 2013-14 and 2014-15 teams allowed a ton of goals against. The Sabres allowed 243 goals during the 2013-14 season which was the 25th most in the NHL. Buffalo’s goals against situation got worse in the 2014-15 season. The Sabres finished the season allowing 269 goals against. The Edmonton Oilers were the only team below the Sabres in this statistic with a total of 276 goals allowed last season.
Buffalo performed poorly in terms of goals allowed last season despite the fact that goaltending was arguably their strongest asset. Jhonas Enroth and Michal Neuvirth were the netminders for the majority of the Sabres’ games last season. After they were traded away, Anders Lindback helped close out the rest of the regular season in Buffalo.
According to NHL.com, Buffalo allowed an average of 35.6 shots against per game which was the most in the NHL. Amid this historically poor Sabres’ season, Buffalo’s goaltenders performed rather well given the circumstances by putting up respectable save percentage numbers. Enroth had a .903 save percentage, Neuvirth had a .918 save percentage, and Lindback had a .924 save percentage while wearing a Sabres’ uniform last season.
Buffalo has allowed an average of 3.75 goals against per game so far during the preseason according to Fox Sports. The goaltending duties have been split by several players including Chad Johnson, Nathan Lieuwen, Andrey Makarov, and Robin Lehner. As Bylsma works his goaltenders, management needs to find the right one to help improve the club’s defensive statistics.
Robin Lehner is an important component of Buffalo’s goaltending mix. General Manager Tim Murray acquired Lehner and forward David Legwand from the Ottawa Senators this summer for a 1st round pick in the 2015 NHL Entry Draft. Murray has been criticized for overpaying in this trade and this season will help determine whether or not this critique is valid.
The success or failure of this trade will be heavily gauged by Lehner’s ability or inability to earn Buffalo’s starting goaltender job. In two preseason appearances, according to Sabres.com, Lehner has logged 80 minutes allowing six goals on 44 shots attempts. These are preseason statistics but Lehner will need to perform far better to emerge as the Sabres’ starter during the regular season.
[See Also: David Legwand and the Buffalo Sabres]
Tim joined The Hockey Writers in July 2013. He began his tenure with THW by covering the Minnesota Wild and he now writes on the Buffalo Sabres. Tim completed his undergraduate and graduate work at the University at Buffalo. In addition, he is a published historian and a Baltimore Orioles Contributing Writer for LegendsOnDeck.com. Tim’s work for THW has been featured on sites such as Yahoo.com. Follow him on Twitter @TOHockeyTHW