Not much went right for the Buffalo Sabres during the 2014-2015 season. The club compiled an abysmal record of 23-51-8 placing them firmly in the NHL’s basement. According to a recent article by TSN’s Scott Cullen, the 2014-2015 Buffalo Sabres were the worst puck possession team since the dawn of analytics. The Sabres also owned the NHL’s worst power play, penalty kill, goal differential, and an assortment of other poor statistics.
Buffalo’s last place finish ensured them a 100% chance of drafting in the top two of the 2015 NHL Entry Draft. The Sabres secured the second pick during the draft lottery earlier this month and will likely take Jack Eichel in the upcoming draft. Eichel will help with the turnaround in Buffalo as the organization looks to rebound when their rebuilding pieces come to fruition.
This past season is one that the Sabres and their fans want to forget. Despite all of the NHL-worst statistics and host of other issues, Buffalo managed to compile a winning record against the Montreal Canadiens, Toronto Maple Leafs, Carolina Hurricanes, the San Jose Sharks. Here is a look at what went right for Buffalo against these clubs amid the cacophony of problems that plagued the Sabres’ 2014-2015 season.
Special Teams Contribute to Success Against Canadiens
Montreal is the only playoff team that Buffalo had a winning record against this season. The Sabres were 3-0-1 against the Canadiens. A strong motivator in the Sabres’ locker room during these games was the presence of Brian Gionta and Josh Gorges. Gionta played in all four games against Montreal while Gorges played in two games. These former Canadiens played a role in Buffalo’s success against Montreal this season.
Special teams were an important component of the successful formula against Montreal this season. In the four game series against the Canadiens, the Sabres converted on 20% of their opportunities with the man advantage and they killed seven of eight penalties. These numbers exceed the Sabres’ regular season power play and penalty kill percentages.
According to ESPN.com, Buffalo had an NHL-worst 13.4% power play percentage and 75.1% penalty kill percentage. Of the four games in this season series, two games were won in regulation by a single goal and the other two were won in the shootout. The Sabres’ special teams found some limited success against Montreal and this helped Buffalo earn some wins against this divisional rival.
Bursts of Offense Contribute to Success Against Maple Leafs
The Sabres’ team offense was downright atrocious this season. According to NHL.com, Buffalo scored 161 total goals on the season equates to 1.96 goals per game. By comparison, the Tampa Bay Lightning were the NHL’s most productive offense scoring 262 total goals. The Sabres will have opportunities to improve their offense through the draft, free agency, and trades during the offseason but they certainly have a long way to go.
While the offense struggled for much of the season, the Sabres managed to channel their inner goal scoring vibes to earn a winning record against the Toronto Maple Leafs. Toronto’s record against the Sabres was 2-2-0 which earned them four points in this season series. However, by virtue of the loser point in their overtime loss, Buffalo won the season series against Toronto earning five points with a 2-1-1 record.
While the first match between these clubs resulted in a 4-0 defeat, the Sabres bounced back in the other three tilts outscoring the Leafs in these games by a 13 to 9 margin. Central to Buffalo’s edge in the season series against the Leafs was the play of forwards Tyler Ennis and Matt Moulson. In four games against the Leafs, Moulson notched three goals and seven points. Ennis also played a strong role in Buffalo’s success against Toronto by scoring two goals and six points. Honorable mention also goes out to Johan Larsson who had a goal and four points in two games against Toronto this season.
Goaltending Saves Sabres’ Bacon Against the Canes
The Sabres and the Canes rivalry dates back to the franchise’s time in Hartford. After moving to Raleigh, the clubs renewed their rivalry during the 2005-2006 playoffs. The teams’ most recent rivalry history hasn’t been very inspiring. Players including Nathan Gerbe, former Hurricane Andrej Sekera, former Sabre Jamie McBain and Zac Dalpe have shifted from one side to the other, but, aside from that, the stakes in recent years have been low.
Ted Nolan on Sabres-Hurricanes: "I think it was a no-hitter. … I could have used both hands to count the hits." #OpeningDay
— John Vogl (@BuffaloVogl) April 7, 2015
Buffalo had a record of 2-1-0 against Carolina this season. Of the four teams that Buffalo defeated in their season series only the Carolina Hurricanes managed to outscore the Sabres. Carolina edged the Sabres in goals scored in the series by an 11 to 10 margin.
A key ingredient to Buffalo’s success in the season series against Carolina was their goaltending. Buffalo’s first win against the Canes came down to the shootout where former Sabres’ goaltender Jhonas Enroth prevailed. According to NHL.com, Enroth finished the season with a shootout record of 6-0 and a .952 shootout save percentage. The Sabres’ second win came through the stellar play of Anders Lindback. While Lindback allowed three goals in this contest, he faced 52 shots and managed a .942 save percentage.
Unexpected/Expected Success Against the Sharks
On paper, when comparing the Sabres to the Sharks in recent years, the obvious edge would go to San Jose. While the Sabres haven’t qualified for the playoffs since the 2010-2011 season, the Sharks qualified for the playoffs that year and have made it three other times during that span.
— Mike Harrington (@ByMHarrington) November 19, 2014
The clubs have been on very different wavelenghts in recent years, but for some reason, the Sabres have been very successful against the Sharks. To date the Sabres have won their last eight games against the Sharks. It defies statistics and logic how the Sabres have had so much success against the Sharks but they continued to defy the odds with a 2-0-0 record against San Jose this season.
Two common threads in Buffalo’s wins against the Sharks this season were good goaltending and even strength offensive production. Former Sabres’ goaltender Michal Neuvirth got the bulk of the workload against San Jose. Neuvirth played in 79 minutes over a two game span where he posted a .975 save percentage and 0.76 GAA.
After an injury, Neuvirth was replaced in Buffalo’s first game by former Sabres’ goaltender Jhonas Enroth. Enroth had a .950 save percentage and a 1.50 GAA in 40 minutes against San Jose. The Sabres’ power play was a non-factor but Buffalo outscored the Sharks in their season series by a 6-2 margin. Brian Gionta led the charge with two goals and three points.
[See Also: Sabres Win McEichel Sweepstakes]
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