After the opening six games of the season, the Buffalo Sabres sit at a mediocre 2-3-1 record (five points), ranking them seventh among the eight East Division teams. While many fans have already hit the panic button, it’s too early to throw in the towel on the new-look Sabres.
The Sabres have outplayed their opponents in the majority of their games, and a low rank in the standings has mostly been because of some missed scoring opportunities and bad puck luck. Buffalo is currently averaging 34.8 shots per game, good for second-most in the NHL, so blaming their poor starting record on a lack of effort is off the table.
Another thing to keep in mind, the Sabres have only played against the Philadelphia Flyers and Washington Capitals so far this season, a very tough opening schedule against two consensus picks to finish near the top of the highly talented East Division. The fact that the Sabres have (more than) held their own in these matches coming off over double the offseason length of their opponents is already an admirable feat.
Sabres’ Star Players Won’t Be Shooting Zero Percent All Season
One of the most concerning statistics for Sabres fans early on, franchise superstar Jack Eichel has yet to score a goal in any of his first six games this season. And it’s not just Eichel who has been held scoreless through the first half-dozen matches; Rasmus Dahlin, Jeff Skinner, Brandon Montour and Cody Eakin are not only goal-less, but they have yet to record a single point in any game so far. Eichel (23), Dahlin (19) and Skinner (18) all rank top-five in shots among Sabres players, but none have managed to put the biscuit in the basket up to this point.
So, Buffalo fans, should you start panicking yet? Still, no.
Eichel, Dahlin and Skinner are some of the most talented players on this strong Sabres roster and will not be shooting zero percent all season. Eichel is still the team leader in points with seven assists, averaging more than a point-per-game, so there is less concern surrounding the sixth-year centre. As one of the most talented players in the NHL, he is destined to return to his lamp-lighting ways soon. A player as skilled as Eichel does not stay goal-less for long, and with the team lead in shots, pucks will go in eventually.
On the other hand, Dahlin and Skinner’s droughts are a bit more surprising, seeing as though they have yet to record any points whatsoever.
Dahlin and Skinner Show Potential Despite Poor Starts
Despite a slow start to the 2020-21 season, Dahlin is still a strong candidate for a breakout year. It’s early in the season, and he is coming off a 10-month break. It’s not a great situation seeing as though this year features a condensed regular-season schedule, meaning poor performances are much more costly, but slow starts are an inevitable issue for many players who haven’t played in nearly a year.
There is still plenty of potential for Dahlin to establish himself as a franchise defenceman this season, but he will likely need a few more games to settle in. Weighing in at 207 pounds, up from 193 pounds at the start of last season, he will look to start taking advantage of his increased size, skill and confidence on the ice and look to build on his previous 2019-20 campaign, which saw him put up 40 points (four goals, 46 assists) in 59 games.
Also pointless through his first six games, Skinner’s point drought has mainly come down to a lack of puck luck. He has been one of the most dominant players for the Sabres this season and seems to merely miss out on goals every game, whether that be shots off the posts, incredible saves by goaltenders or missing the net just wide.
Currently being shelved on Buffalo’s fourth line alongside Curtis Lazar and Riley Sheahan, Skinner appears very eager to put the puck in the net and prove himself as a key piece to Buffalo’s roster. He is clearly frustrated with his absurd number of failed scoring opportunities and is inches away (literally) from a scoring outbreak. The pucks can’t stay out of the net forever.
As of Monday, the Sabres sit just two points out of a playoff spot. Losses are quite costly in this 56-game condensed season, so if the Sabres want to make a strong push for their first postseason appearance in a decade, they need to start stringing wins together sooner rather than later. It is a necessity for Eichel, Dahlin and Skinner to start scoring if that is going to happen. With an average of three or four games scheduled in a typical week, two points out of a playoff position can quickly turn into ten points out if Buffalo can’t start finishing on more opportunities and putting pucks in the back of the net.
The Sabres’ next game is scheduled for Tuesday night when they’ll host the New York Rangers at 7 p.m. ET.
Tom Pepper hosts The Hockey Writers Podcast on iHeartRadio and wherever you listen to podcasts, every weekday (Monday to Friday). In addition, he writes the “NHL Sound Bites” and “NHL Talk” columns. He is a diehard Buffalo Sabres fan in Toronto, frequently driving the Queen Elizabeth Way to cheer on his team at KeyBank Center.