The Buffalo Sabres’ playoff hopes for the 2015-16 season are fading but a silver lining to the 2015-16 season is that the club has shown signs of improvement.
Growing pains are to be expected with a young team like the Sabres. According to Quanthockey.com, Buffalo has the second youngest team average age in the NHL at 25.855 years. While there is a lot of work still to be done for Buffalo to return to the playoffs, the club has moved in the right direction in several important realms this season.
Buffalo’s penalty kill and power play units are two areas where the club has shown improvement. There have been times of feast and famine on special teams over the course of the 2015-16 season. However, on the whole the Sabres have made considerable progress this season when compared to their performance during the last two seasons.
Buffalo Sabres Improving on the Power Play
It is no secret that the Sabres have struggled to score goals this season. Buffalo ranks 27th in the NHL in goals scored with just 155 goals in 66 games. Further renovations to the offense will need to be explored during the offseason. While there is still a lot of room for improvement on offense, the Sabres have made strides on the power play this season.
With just 16 games left in the 2015-16 season Buffalo ranks as the 11th best power play in the NHL. The Sabres have converted on 20.0 percent of their opportunities this season. There is no denying that Buffalo’s power play has had its share of ups and downs. However, the Sabres’ improvement on the power play is noteworthy when compared to how poor it was during the previous two seasons.
In 2013-14, the Sabres converted just 14.4 percent of their power play opportunities ranking them 29th in the NHL. Buffalo’s ability to score goals with the man advantage further declined last season. The 2014-15 Sabres converted on only 13.4 percent of their chances dropping the club to the 30th ranked power play.
In an overall sense, there has been an improvement but there is no question that the Sabres’ power play has struggled at times this season. This is especially true in recent games after the loss of Buffalo’s power play guru, forward Ryan O’Reilly. Despite being sidelined with an injury, O’Reilly still leads the Sabres with 19 power play points. O’Reilly ranks fourth in the NHL with 153 faceoffs won with the man advantage and he has logged 192 power play minutes.
Bylsma on power play struggles: "That's been a big factor, it's been a draining factor for our team." #Sabres
— Mike Harrington (@ByMHarrington) February 28, 2016
Jack Eichel and Rasmus Ristolainen have also performed well with the man advantage this season. Eichel leads Buffalo with eight power play goals. Eichel and Ristolainen are tied for second on the Sabres in power play points – each has tallied 18 points this season with the man advantage.
Sabres Have 9th Best Penalty Kill Unit
The Sabres have allowed the 17th most goals against in the NHL. Through 66 games, Buffalo’s opponents have scored 172 goals or an average of 2.61 goals per game. Similar to their offense, there is room for improvement with the Sabres’ defense. However, one aspect where the Sabres have found some success is on the penalty kill.
The Sabres have gone 61-for-67 (91.0%) on the penalty kill in their last 24 games, including a 22-for-23 run in the team’s last 7 games.
— Sabres PR (@SabresPR) March 2, 2016
Dan Bylsma and his coaching staff have devised a penalty kill system that is worthy of a top 10 ranking. In 66 games, the Sabres have killed off 82.2 percent of their penalties. This currently ranks Buffalo as the ninth best penalty kill in the NHL which is an improvement when compared to the last two seasons.
In 2013-14 Buffalo killed 81.4 percent of their penalties ranking the Sabres 20th in the NHL. The Sabres’ penalty kill regressed even further during the 2014-15 season. Buffalo killed off an NHL-worst 75.1 percent of their penalties last season.
Ristolainen and O’Reilly have both played crucial roles for the Sabres in short-handed situations this season. Ristolainen has logged over 174 minutes and he has blocked 22 shots on the penalty kill. Meanwhile, O’Reilly is ranked eighth in the NHL with 95 faceoff wins and he has logged more than 124 minutes while killing penalties for Buffalo this season.
[See Also: Buffalo Sabres Number 90 History]
The Featured Image is provided by Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers