As the 2014-2015 season wages on, two teams have been on a downward spiral that has landed both in the NHL’s basement. These teams are the Buffalo Sabres and the Edmonton Oilers. Currently, the Oilers find themselves in twenty-ninth place with a 12-27-9 record and thirty-three points. The Buffalo Sabres sit in thirtieth place with a 14-31-3 record and thirty-one points. Both clubs are having treacherous seasons and will be in the thick of the Connor McDavid/Jack Eichel sweepstakes at the 2015 NHL Entry Draft.
Both franchises are seeking to return to contention through a rebuilding process. While the Oilers have toiled down this road longer than the Sabres, both clubs still have a ways to go in order to return to form. As the current standings suggest, the Oilers have fared slightly better than the Sabres so far this season. A coaching change and some roster turnover has already occurred in Edmonton. Meanwhile, the roster situation in Buffalo, aside from changes due to injuries, has remained relatively the same.
Both floundering clubs will clash tonight in Oil Country in a battle of the NHL’s worst. The Oilers defeated the Sabres by a 3-2 count back in November in Buffalo. The loser of this contest will gain ground on the other in the McEichel sweepstakes while falling further away from the rest of the NHL who are competing for a playoff berth. Here is a side-by-side comparison of these two basement-dwelling clubs as they look to make the most of the remainder of their seasons.
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A Look At the Numbers
The Sabres and Oilers are at the bottom of the NHL standings for a reason. A telling statistic is goal differential and both clubs are among the NHL’s worst in this statistic. Buffalo has slapped several exclamation points behind their NHL worst and stunningly bad goal differential statistic which stands at a -81. To put this in it’s proper perspective, the Sabres are nearly thirty goals worse than the next closest team, the Arizona Coyotes. Meanwhile, the Edmonton Oilers own the NHL’s twenty-eighth best goal differential with a -50.
Another noteworthy realm of weakness for both clubs is on special teams. When it comes to the power play, no team is worse than the Sabres who have converted on just 10.5% of their opportunities with the man advantage this season. Edmonton is slightly better with a 13.7% power play efficiency rate which gives them the twenty-eighth best power play in the NHL. Buffalo has scored just fourteen goals with the man advantage while the Oilers have twenty goals.
On the flip-side, the penalty kill has also troubled both squads this season. The Oilers again have performed better than the Sabres in this area. Buffalo owns another league-worst statistic as they have a 73.8% penalty kill efficiency rate. Meanwhile, the Oilers have the twenty-second best rate at 79.7%. Time spent with the man advantage or killing penalties often brings fans to the edge of their seats. However, the power play and penalty kills in Edmonton and Buffalo have both fallen short on even the most reasonable expectations and have left much more to be desired.
Top Performers on Bad Teams
The Oilers have an emerging young core in Taylor Hall, Jordan Eberle and Ryan Nugent-Hopkins. While there is a lot of potential here, the youngsters have had a disappointing year. Currently the three each have twenty-nine points on the season. This diminished production has been a major concern and it has contributed to Edmonton’s struggles. Taylor Hall has been the subject of trade rumors in recent weeks as the organizational leadership is mulling over alternate directions for the future of the Oilers.
Oilers coach Todd Nelson says Taylor Hall day to day with bone bruise. Status uncertain for tomorrow vs. #Sabres
— Mike Harrington (@ByMHarrington) January 28, 2015
Forward Teddy Purcell was acquired by the Oilers this summer from the Tampa Bay Lightning in exchange for forward Sam Gagner. While his numbers have fallen off in comparison to his production over the past few seasons, he still has time to get back on track. Newcomer, and former Sabre, Derek Roy has provided eight points in twelve games since being acquired from the Nashville Predators.
[See Also: Oilers: First Half Report Card – Forwards by Rob Soria]
The story in Buffalo is similar to Edmonton except Buffalo’s offense has struggled to an even greater degree. Tyler Ennis leads the offensive charge in Buffalo with twenty-nine points on the year. He is followed by Zemgus Girgensons and Drew Stafford who each have twenty-two points and Matt Moulson with twenty points. Drew Stafford is having a disappointing year considering he is in the final year of his contract. He will need to perform well during the home stretch of the season in order to earn a new deal next year.
Jhonas Enroth in the shootout this season? 5-0, with one goal against on 21 chances. #Sabres
— Greg Wyshynski (@wyshynski) January 28, 2015
While Buffalo’s success has been severely limited this season, when the club found success it came as a result of strong play by goaltenders Jhonas Enroth and Michael Neuvirth. The Sabres haven’t won a game in more than a month and find themselves in the midst a twelve game losing streak. The play of Enroth and Neuvirth has fallen off as of late but they haven’t gotten much support from the team in front of them. Both Enroth and Neuvirth are free agents at the end of this season. Their play during the next few weeks will indeed weigh in on their future in Buffalo as Tim Murray will need to decide which goaltender, if any, to keep around ahead of the NHL trade deadline.
Tim joined The Hockey Writers in July 2013. He began his tenure with THW by covering the Minnesota Wild and he now writes on the Buffalo Sabres. Tim completed his undergraduate and graduate work at the University at Buffalo. In addition, he is a published historian and a Baltimore Orioles Contributing Writer for LegendsOnDeck.com. Tim’s work for THW has been featured on sites such as Yahoo.com. Follow him on Twitter @TOHockeyTHW