After an unexpectedly hot start to the 2021-22 season, the Buffalo Sabres have returned to Earth with their recent stretch of play. Over their last five games, they have posted an 0-4-1 record, stalling any positive momentum they were experiencing in the opening weeks of the season.
Now, this doesn’t mean that all is lost for Buffalo, as there are a few good reasons why play has slipped since their last win on Oct. 28th. First, Craig Anderson was unable to start in their last three games, which forced backup Dustin Tokarski into a bigger starting role than one would hope.
Second, the Sabres are coming off of a road trip that took them through California and Seattle before returning home for one game and then hitting the road again to play the Washington Capitals. Long road trips like this are draining on even the best teams, so this may have been enough to slow down some of their players as they traveled to the other coast to play hockey for the first time in almost two years.
One final piece to this slump is, of course, injuries. The Sabres have dealt with injuries to a number of players, but the most impactful of which appears to be Victor Oloffson. Through the first 8 games of the season, he was powering the Sabres’ hot start, posting 9 points.
It is no coincidence that Buffalo lost five straight games after Oloffson went down with an injury on Oct. 31st against the L.A. Kings. He is one of the franchise’s best players right now, and he brings much more than just scoring to the ice, especially for a unit that is lacking in standout talent.
Oloffson Is More Than Just Scoring for Sabres
An aspect of Oloffson’s play that is easy to overlook is his defensive responsibility. When you look at his overall advanced stats, they are well above average, with his Fenwick and Corsi-for running close to 60 percent. Simply, this means is that when he is on the ice, the Sabres are controlling the puck more than their opponents, which is always a positive.
Advanced stats like these can be easy to inflate, though, as a player like Olofsson often takes the majority of their ice-time in the offensive zone or on the powerplay. In these scenarios, it is more likely that their team will be handling the puck, as they have the upper hand while setting up scoring chances.
However, when you dig into Olofsson’s 5-on-5 statistics, you’ll see that they are actually far more balanced than expected. In those scenarios, he was splitting ice time almost exactly 50/50, with 51 percent of his zone starts taking place in the offensive zone, and 49 percent taking place in the defensive.
With that split ice-time, he was still sporting a solid Fenwick and Corse-for around 54 percent, which showcases that he was playing the game responsibly. This is also represented in his plus-three at even-strength play, which further shows that he was contributing more to the box score than just a few goals.
Olofsson’s Return Could Get the Sabres Back on Track
It’s fair to say that the Sabres aren’t the deepest team in the NHL right now. After selling off some of their starting talent for draft picks, they have been left with a rost filled with journeymen veterans and young players who are still establishing themselves in the league.
Due to this, the loss of one forward like Olofsson is all the more impactful. He was, inarguably, Buffalo’s best forward while he was on the ice, and in the games since his injury, the team has lacked the same punch on both ends of the ice.
So, the bad news for the Sabres is that it appears Olofsson will be unavailable to play for a few more days, which could deepen their already bad skid. However, once he gets back on the ice, he has the potential to help turn the season around for Buffalo, as he can help to stabilize the forward corps.
It doesn’t take much for a team on the edge to turn a loss into a win, and Olofsson is a player that can be a game-changer for the Sabres. If he can help prevent one goal in the defensive zone or chip in one more point a night, that may be enough for Buffalo to start rattling off a few more wins. While this may not get them back in the playoff hunt, any positive momentum forward will be much appreciated for the franchise as they continue to rebuild from their numerous issues in recent years.
Eugene Helfrick is a Tampa Bay Lightning writer who is actually from Tampa Bay. He has written about the Lightning for six years, covering everything from their run to the 2015 Stanley Cup Final, to their crushing first-round exit in 2019, to their redemption in the bubble in 2020. While he is happy to talk about just about anything from cows to cars to video games, hockey will always remain one of his favorite pastimes.