While fans and analyst can point to several reasons why the team has struggled this season, the greatest catalyst for the Buffalo Sabres disappointing 2013 is their poor play on the power play and on the penalty kill. The Sabres rank dead last in the NHL when it comes to converting with the man advantage, while they are barely doing much better with a ranking of 26th when it comes to being a man down.
Breaking Down the Special Teams Struggles
This doesn’t tell the whole story, however. Lets break it down a bit further through the first 40 games. The Sabres have scored a woeful 17 power-play goals, while giving up 7 shorthanded goals (which is in fact, worst in the league). That gives them a plus-10 aggregate with the man advantage. When the team is shorthanded, they have surrendered 34 goals, while scoring 6 (which is good for second best in the league and one of the few bright spots on special teams. That gives the Sabres a minus-28 aggregate. Adding the two totals together leaves the team with 18 less goals than their opponents.
Inversely, lets look at how the team performance at even strength. The Buffalo Sabres have a goals for to goals against ratio of exactly one, meaning they’ve given up as many goals as they’ve scored while playing with the same number of skaters as the opposing team. That ration places them right in the middle of the pack with a league ranking of 15th. So, if the team was able to simply break even on special teams (meaning they have a goals against to goals for ratio of about one), they’d be right in the thick of the playoff race.
The Impact of Special Teams Play on the Franchise
Not only has the Buffalo Sabres special teams play affected the team’s season — with the team only having a two-percent chance of making the playoffs — but has begun to reshape the entire franchise. If the team was currently occupying one of the top-eight playoff spots in the Eastern Conference, former head coach Lindy Ruff would still be behind the bench and former captain Jason Pominville would still be anchoring the team’s top line instead of helping the Minnesota Wild to make to the postseason.
And, this only appears to be the tip of the iceberg for change in Buffalo. Rumors have General Manager Darcy Regier on the hot seat as well as Thomas Vanek, Drew Stafford and Ryan Miller on the trading block, when we arrive at the offseason. Again, if the team was on the verge of qualifying for the postseason, none of these topics would be discussed right now.
However, not everyone seems to be too panicked in Buffalo about the changes and potential shake ups. A lot members in the local media as well as fans have been clamoring for a change for several years now. The next big question is, how long will this rebuild (yes, I said that blasphemous R-word) take? The Sabres have stock piled a number of early round picks for the next few drafts and also have a lot of promising prospects in the pipeline, including the likes of Jake McCabe, Joel Armia, Mikhail Gregorenko and Zemgus Girgensons. However, the team’s strategy is uncertain. Will they use these assets as potential trading pieces for more established players or will they be patient and grow from within? Only time will tell. But, one thing is for certain. It should be a very interest summer in Buffalo as the franchise begins to reshape itself.
As an American based in Amsterdam, Joe provides a unique hockey insight, bringing a global perspective to the game. Joe has several years of experience covering the game on both a domestic and international level, including being credentialed for multiple World and World Junior Championships.