Sabres Haunted by Poor Execution

The Buffalo Sabres are off to another slow start. An occurrence that has become the norm now over the past few years. They’re 0-2-1 and have allowed 12 goals against in the previous two contests.

A lot of theories are being thrown out as to why the club finds themselves in this situation again. The depth on the roster isn’t good enough, the defense isn’t as improved as expected, and familiarity with a new system are a few suggestions to justify the slow start. At the end of the day, it comes down to execution.

Don’t Blame the System

With a new coaching staff and the addition of eight new players to the opening night roster. Some bumps in the road were expected. The types of “bumps” we’ve seen against the New York Islanders and the New Jersey Devils in the previous two games are errors beyond getting used to a new system. Evander Kane described the team’s play as “lack of focus and not bearing down on pucks.”

Evander Kane (Aaron Doster-USA TODAY Sports)

The type of turnovers and mistakes we’re seeing are mental errors that are unacceptable. Regardless of the system that a coach tries to install with his team. If players cannot execute breakout passes or cover a pinching defender the system has no chance to succeed. Those are two things have been huge problems thus far with the Sabres that are some of the basics of the sport. Defenseman Nathan Beaulieu echoed this exact sentiment after Monday’s game saying “it’s just execution, it’s pretty simple, you can put all the systems together in the world and if you don’t execute it’s just not going to work.”

Related: Sabres Looking for Answers After Lackluster Preseason

Simple Mistakes

Phil Housley likes his team to play an aggressive game with a five-man attack. At times that can result in odd man rushes the other way. It’s a necessary evil that the team will have to deal with, but usually if executed properly the good will outweigh the bad. The pressure created from the aggressive philosophy on the opposing team is supposed to force them to make the errors. Instead, the Sabres have found themselves committing the majority of the mistakes.

This game is a game of mistakes and it just seems that we’re making key mistakes at times in the game that are ending up in our net. – Phil Housley

On Monday the Devils were given at least four two on ones and the Islanders were gifted a few of their own in Saturday’s game. The odd man rushes are turning into lay-ups for the opponents and leaving the Sabres goaltenders out to dry. The reason for the odd man rushes again goes back to simple mental mistakes. Turnovers in the neutral zone and defenseman getting caught on bad pinches. “Errors, big errors that you can’t have at this level,” said Kane when asked about the two on ones against Monday afternoon.

A lot of excitement was generated from the performance in the season opener against the Montreal Canadiens. The Sabres played fast and put up 45 on the visitors in what ended up to be a 3-2 shootout loss. That type of play is night and day from what we saw in Monday’s 6-2 embarrassing loss at home.

Buffalo Sabres head coach Phil Housley
Phil Housley (Kevin Hoffman-USA TODAY Sports)

The passing in the Monday matinée was some of the worst you’ll see in the NHL. The Sabres couldn’t execute a simple breakout or make a clean pass to anyone besides an opposing player. Turnovers at the defensive blue line and neutral zone didn’t allow them to set up any type of forecheck.

Related: How the Sabres Make the Playoffs

In the opener, we saw the speed because of the execution of their passing. Breakouts were clean and passes were on the tape. A team doesn’t need to have burners throughout the lineup to be classified as fast. The puck moves faster than any player. Team speed is generated from clean passes that get your team on the offensive quickly. This is the model that the Pittsburgh Penguins have successfully executed for the past two years and what the Sabres are striving for. The good news is this doesn’t look like a complicated correction on the surface.