It’s no newsflash that the Buffalo Sabres are having trouble putting the puck in the net. Through four games of play the team has only managed to score four times, and before Tuesday’s game had yet to scrap out a multi-goal performance. With the new emphasis on offense in the NHL (including smaller goalie equipment and shallower nets), a lack of scoring equates to a lack of success. Therefore, the Sabres need to correct their scoring deficiencies in a hurry. So lets take a look at how the Blue and Gold can improve.
Take More Shots
This may sound simple, but the Sabres are failing to get enough pucks to the net. Through four games of play the Sabres have managed just 99 shots on goal. Take away the first period of the Ottawa game, and the team is left with 83 shots on goal in 8+ periods of play. On the flip side, the Sabres have been outshot every game. Their opponents have registered 159 shots on goal. Just by the law of averages, this is a recipe for disaster.
Making matters worse is the Sabres are not making up for their lack of shooting with a high shooting percentage. As a matter of fact, the Sabres are dead last in the league with a shooting percentage of 4.04%. The NHL average shooting percentage for the 2012-13 season was 9.11%. So even if the Sabres were on par, they only would have scored nine goals this season, which equates to just over two goals a game.
This proves two things. Firstly and most obviously, the less pucks you get on net, the less chances you have to score. Secondly, an arguement cannot be made that the Sabres are passing up shooting attempts for more quality scoring opportunities. If this was the case, it’d be very likely the team would possess a higher shooting percentage.
Head coach of the Buffalo Sabres Ron Rolston would agree the Sabres need to get more shots on goal. “We still don’t get enough at their net. We had a lot of chances that we just passed up. We don’t shoot the puck still,” commented Rolston after the Sabres 3-2 overtime loss to the Tampa Bay Lightning. “I thought Marcus [Foligno] had a real good game for us, but third period, he walks right down the hashmarks and we pass off. I mean, you gotta bury those. So those are the things we’re doing right now that we gotta clean up.”
Change Distribution of Ice Time
Anyone who looks at the Sabres roster would say the team doesn’t have a whole lot of scoring talent. Therefore, the most offensively skilled players need to be on the ice as much as possible. One way this happens is of course by staying out of the penalty box. This also happens by Rolston riding his best players as much as possible.
Thomas Vanek (the Sabres best offensive player by far) is averaging 19:51 of ice time a game. While that’s a respectable number and good enough for seventh on the team, Vanek is capable of eating up a few more minutes. Even if it’s a short-term strategy, Rolston should consider giving Vanek more ice time, at least until some of his teammates can find their scoring touch.
Rolston may also want to consider taking a chance on some of the younger players in favor of some of the veterans who have proven time and again they aren’t capable of getting the job done. Zemgus Girgensons has received much praise since making his debut at the start of the season, but is only averaging 13:16 of ice time. He should be moved up to the second line to provide energy and create opportunities for his teammates.
Once healthy, Joel Armia should also be given a chance in the top six. Although extremely raw, the Finn has a ton of skill and already has professional experience from playing in the SM-liiga. If the Sabres really want to be daring, why not try Mikhail Grigorenko on the top line. It could be just the shot in the arm the young Russian player needs to accelerate his career.
Take More Chances
No matter what the Sabres do, they will have trouble scoring with the way the roster is currently constructed. Therefore, they need to take chances when they present themselves and be as aggressive as possible. That means the defensemen need to jump in on the rush whenever there is the possibility of an opportunity and that sometimes wingers may need to cheat a little bit towards the top of the blue line when it looks like their teammates are about to gain possession of the puck in the defensive zone.
The Sabres (for the most part) have been playing a strong defensive game and have been getting outstanding play in net by Jonas Enroth and Ryan Miller. That means they can afford to take some risks, knowing that their teammates are able to cover for them. Furthermore, the Sabres have a very offensively talented defensive unit with the likes of Tyler Myers, Christian Ehrhoff and Rasmus Ristolainen. These guys need to be utilized to generate offense since the forwards are not skilled enough to do it on their own.
The catalyst for all of this is hustle and a strong work ethic. The Sabres are not talented enough to beat most other teams in the NHL. Where they can gain an advantage is by being one of the hardest working teams.
It’s entirely too early for the Sabres to panic, but they need to start scoring and ultimately winning hockey games before they bury themselves too far in the standings like they’ve been accustomed to doing the last few seasons.
As an American based in Amsterdam, Joe provides a unique hockey insight, bringing a global perspective to the game. Joe has several years of experience covering the game on both a domestic and international level, including being credentialed for multiple World and World Junior Championships.