There’s a similar theme to the Buffalo Sabres 2017-18 season carried over from 2016-17. What’s the issue I’m talking about you ask? It’s secondary scoring.
One of the main objectives on the offseason agenda was to rectify this concern. New general manager Jason Botterill did make some moves to fix the scoring problem, but there are no signs that it will improve. The Sabres again seem top heavy when it comes to their goal production and will need to rely on their big names to carry the offense again this season.
Blue Line Production
Last season, the Sabres had one of the lowest point producing defense groups in the NHL, ranked 25th in the league in points with 121 and last in goals scored with 17. Rasmus Ristolainen led the D with six goals and 45 points. The next best point producer was Cody Franson with three goals and 19 points.
This season, the Sabres are one of four teams that have yet to score a goal from the blue line. Going into Friday’s games, the defense has produced the fewest points with five, scored by two players, Nathan Beaulieu (2) and Ristolainen (3). Beaulieu scored 28 points with the Montreal Canadiens last season and is expected to help produce offense from the back end. However, he’ll need to improve on his 23 point pace through seven games to meet expectations.
Other players who were supposed to boost the defense haven’t been visible. Zach Bogosian was supposed to rebound from last season’s 11 points under head coach Phil Housley but hasn’t played a game due to an injury suffered in the preseason. Victor Antipin was another addition expected to be an offensive boost when he came over from the KHL. After the first three games of the season, he’s been a healthy scratch the last four games.
With Marco Scandella, who isn’t an offensive player, and Bogosian’s and Antipin’s replacements in the lineup, Matt Tennyson and Josh Gorges, the team is looking at an uphill battle to improve upon last season’s scoring totals something changes soon.
Top Heavy Forwards
The secondary scoring issue isn’t all on the defensive side. Last season Jack Eichel, Ryan O’Reilly, Evander Kane and Sam Reinhart accounted for 89 of the team’s 199 goals or 44 percent. If you throw in Kyle Okposo’s 19 goals, five players accounted for 108 goals or 54 percent of the team’s total.
This season, the story is the same. Eichel, Kane, Reinhart, O’Reilly and Jason Pominville have accounted for 15 of the 18 goals the Sabres have on the season. That’s 83 percent. Now, to be fair Pominville was brought in to improve the scoring and he’s done well with that so far, playing on Eichel’s wing, with four goals in seven games.
The scary part is Kane, Pominville and Eichel are on the club’s top line and with 11 of the team’s 18 goals this season. Having your top line account for 61 percent of the goals is not a winning formula. Opponents will eventually focus on shutting down the Eichel line and take their chances with the other three lines.
Players they were counting on to provide scoring from the bottom of the lineup have not produced as expected. Benoit Pouliot, Okposo and Matt Moulson have yet to score a goal this season, while Johan Larsson (empty net goal) and Girgensons each have one.
Okposo and Pouliot are the most concerning of the aforementioned players. Pouliot was supposed to be a motivated player trying to show last season was a fluke with the Oilers. Okposo is expected to be a 20-goal scorer but has been non-existent through his five games. The 29-year-old has six years and $36 million remaining on his contract and some are already wondering if the team should have buyer’s remorse.
Some of the younger players in the system were counted on to bolster the offense this season but we haven’t seen that yet either. Alex Nylander is still out with an injury he suffered in the prospects challenge back in early September. Justin Bailey was recently recalled from the AHL and scored a goal in his first shift back. He’ll get the opportunity to make a bigger impact playing with Okposo and O’Reilly in the next game.
Another season of relying on the big names to produce all of the offense will make for another long season for the Sabres. It’s still too early to make rash judgements, but the first few games haven’t shown any reasons for hope.