A huge piece of the puzzle for the 2014-2015 Buffalo Sabres is their offense. This piece was lost for the majority of the team’s opening twenty games of the season. Buffalo scored just nineteen goals through it’s first seventeen games which was good for an abysmal average of 1.12 goals per game.
The Sabres seem to have found a bit of a scoring touch during the last three games. Over this small stretch where the Sabres record is 3-0-0, the club has scored twelve goals or an average of 4.00 goals per game. The Sabres still have the NHL’s worst offense but the fact that it is currently on the upswing is encouraging.
One major reason why the Sabres’ offense has been so lethargic through it’s first twenty games is because of their power play. Through twenty games, Buffalo had fifty-nine power play opportunities. The Sabres have only converted on 6.8% of their chances with the man advantage which is the worst power play in the NHL.
Drew Stafford and Tyler Ennis each have two power play goals. These four goals account for 100% of the Sabres’ offense with the man advantage. No other player has been able to light the lamp so far this year on the power play. Players like Cody Hodgson and Matt Moulson need to find their scoring touch on the power play to help to change the Sabres’ fortunes.
A struggling offense has resulted in much more work for the Sabres’ defense and goaltenders. Through twenty games, Buffalo’s offense generated an NHL low average of 23.1 shots per game while it allowed a league high 36.6 shots per game. Buffalo only generated more shots than it’s opponent twice during this opening stretch and has won both of these games. Meanwhile, the Sabres have a 3-12-1 record when opponents have recorded more shots and a 0-1-1 record when Buffalo tied it’s opponent in shots. The Sabres desperately need to reverse these trends but through twenty games it is unclear if the team has the personnel to make this happen on a consistent basis.
The Sabres’ lackluster offense indeed has been the team’s Achilles’ heel through twenty games. Despite the club’s struggles, there have been some exciting goals generated by the NHL’s worst offense. In recent games, Buffalo’s goal scoring has started showing some signs of life resulting in the Sabres’ current three-game winning streak. Let’s take a look back at the top five Buffalo Sabres goals through the team’s first twenty games of the 2014-2015 NHL season.
5. Marcus Foligno Scores Against the Hurricanes
Number five on the countdown was a direct result of an excellent breakout from the Sabres’ zone. After a Hurricane scoring chance in Buffalo’s zone which was met with a save by goaltender Jhonas Enroth, Sabres’ defensemen Tyson Strachen makes a very simple play. Strachen uses the boards to move the puck to forward Chris Stewart and break out of Buffalo’s defensive zone.
Stewart is wide open and makes a turn at center ice only to realize the Sabres have an odd man rush. He carries the puck into Carolina’s zone with Canes’ defenseman Justin Faulk between himself and forward Marcus Foligno. Faulk commits to Stewart who then sends a crisp pass to Foligno. Foligno shoots and beats Hurricanes’ goaltender Cam Ward for Buffalo’s first of the game.
4. Nicolas Deslauriers Lights the Lamp Against San Jose
The fourth goal on the countdown proves that good things happen when you go to the net. This play got started as Buffalo moved the puck into the zone and behind the San Jose net. A brief puck battle ensues in the corner then rookie forward Sam Reinhart emerges with the puck. He dumps a quick pass to Sabres’ forward Cody McCormick.
McCormick shows great patience with the puck as Nicolas Deslauriers moves towards the net along with Sharks defenseman Scott Hannan. McCormick rips a shot that goaltender Alex Stalock fields but Stalock gives up a rebound that floats through the crease. Deslauriers moves in and taps the puck in for what became the game winning goal against the Sharks. Sam Reinhart also gets a helper in what was his first point in the NHL.
3. Tyler Ennis Buries the Rebound Against Toronto
The third goal on this top five countdown was scored courtesy of Tyler Ennis. This goal is all about hard work and persistence which was often lacking during the Sabres opening twenty games. As effort improves so does the outcome of games for the Sabres who are currently on a three game winning streak.
Ennis brings the puck into the Toronto zone and drops it back to Tyler Myers on the blue line. Myers moves it back to Ennis who passes it to Moulson. Moulson then feeds it to Stafford in the slot who rips a shot. Leaf’s goaltender James Reimer makes the initial save but gives up a juicy rebound. Ennis trails in and punches it home into the empty net.
What makes this goal even better is that it was scored on the power play where the Sabres have struggled mightily this season. The execution on this goal was solid and if the squad can replicate their effort on this play in their future power play opportunities, the Sabres’ conversion percentage with the man advantage should steadily increase.
2. Zemgus Girgensons Finishes a Chaotic Play Against the Leafs
Sabres’ forward Zemgus Girgensons is quickly becoming a fan favorite in Buffalo. The more he is on the ice the better he seems to get. Girgensons is all about effort and he has been pretty effective for Buffalo so far despite the Sabres’ current position in the NHL’s basement. Through twenty games, Girgensons had a +4 which is pretty impressive given Buffalo’s -35 goal differential. Sabres’ forward Brian Flynn played an integral role in this goal making a very smart play to earn a helper.
This goal by Zemgus Girgensons comes in at number two on the countdown – much to the chagrin of Leafs fans. The puck is cleared out of the Buffalo zone and Sabres forward Brian Flynn rushes after it into the Leafs zone. His speed and initiative causes a reaction that brought on some mistakes by the Leafs.
Toronto defenseman Dion Phaneuf doesn’t match Flynn’s intensity into the Leafs zone which draws Reimer out of his crease to play the puck. Reimer attempts a poke check but makes a swing and a miss. Meanwhile, Flynn moves into the corner and Phaneuf moves towards him to prevent Flynn from curving towards the empty net.
Flynn’s patience with the puck draws the attention of his opposition towards him while Girgensons enters the zone. Flynn feeds the puck to Girgensons who navigates closer to the net before firing the puck to light the lamp. The goal was an ugly defensive play by the Leafs that could have easily gone awry for Buffalo. However, some smart puck movement turns this play into a short-handed goal so a tip of the hat to Flynn and Girgensons for their patience, puck possession, and execution.
1. Zemgus Girgensons Uses Speed to Score Against CBJ
The Sabres’ first goal of the 2014-2015 season makes number one on this countdown of the top five goals in the opening twenty games and it was an amazing individual effort by Zemgus Girgensons. Buffalo ultimately lost their opening game against Columbus by a 3-1 score. However, Girgensons caught the eye of many Sabres fans with this goal and he promises to be a big part of Buffalo’s future after the rebuild.
Nolan: Successful people practice their craft a LOT. You look at a guy like Girgensons, he does that consistently.
— Buffalo Sabres (@BuffaloSabres) November 17, 2014
Buffalo cleared the zone and pressure by forward Marcus Foligno caused a turnover. Foligno used his body to shield the puck and then he dumped the puck to a surging Zemgus Girgensons. After he received the puck, Girgensons turned on the jets and the rest is history. He used his speed to fly past forward Artem Anisimov, evade a body check from forward Scott Hartnell, speed to the net past Jack Johnson and he still had enough gas left to beat Columbus goaltender Sergei Bobrovsky.
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