With 10 goals scored in the first nine games played, the Sabres have been lucky enough to win twice with those kinds of numbers. There are many factors that have combined to lead Buffalo to this horrendous start. All of which could involve the fact that Buffalo is ranked 30th in faceoff percentage at 40.9, or that they are allowing a league high of 36.7 shots per game.
The Sabres still have approximately 90% of the regular season left to go, so it’s a small sample size, but there’s an underlying issue as to why the Sabres have really been hurting on the scoresheet. The power play has been non-existent to this point, going 0-for-30 throughout the opening nine games. The Sabres are one of two teams in the league (Minnesota, 0-for-24) without a power play goal this season.
Here’s the real kicker, though. The Sabres are 7th in the league in the amount of time spent on the power play, which is 52:17. Putting all of it together, Buffalo have had over two and a half periods of time with the man advantage and have failed to score. Now compare those numbers to a team such as the Penguins, which have scored 10 goals in 37:35 of power play time. That’s the third lowest time with the man advantage, but they still have 43 shots and the NHL’s best power play.
Buffalo have had 30 opportunities on the power play as well as 40 shots on them, which is the league average, so it’s not the number of chances that is the problem. If the Sabres, or any team, took 40 shots in one game, you’d normally expect them to have a few goals, or at least one, but Buffalo have been shutout on its’ 40 power play shots.
The struggle with the man advantage may not come as a surprise since the team finished 29th in the league last season with a 14.1 percentage. Even then, the Sabres averaged a power play goal on every 10.5 shots. Using that and plugging in this season’s 40 shots, there are four goals missing from the equation. Of course, it’s a different team, and perhaps the Sabres are taking more perimeter shots and getting less second chances on rebounds, but it’s still an issue.
If this Sabres team is going to have a successful rebuild, the power play is going to need to be improved at one point or another. It does not have to become elite, but at least close to the league average. Having a strong power play isn’t imperative for a team to make the playoffs, but it certainly helps. Not one Eastern Conference team which made the playoffs last season had a power play ranked in the bottom 10. To be fair, four teams in the Western Conference did.
Ted Nolan has stuck with a main group of players for his power play units and they’ve all remained relatively consistent. The table below shows the players who are earning the most power play time for Buffalo.
Forward PP TOI PP TOI/GP Defenseman PP TOI
Tyler Ennis 31:28 3:29 Tyler Myers 31:20 3:28
Matt Moulson 30:52 3:25 Andre Benoit 25:58 2:53
Drew Stafford 30:08 3:20 Andrej Meszaros 18:05 2:15
Cody Hodgson 25:27 2:49 Rasmus Ristolainen 7:45 0:51
Chris Stewart 22:11 2:27 Josh Gorges 1:28 0:09
Brian Gionta 20:13 2:14
Zemgus Girgensons 14:29 1:36
The problem for the Sabres is that they’re having issues scoring in general, so when they have a power play, they need to take advantage of it. If they’re not going to be able to put two or three goals per game like we’ve seen so far, then the power play becomes that much more important.
Of course, these power play numbers will rise. They simply have to, but the Sabres waste a good portion of their power play time trying to enter the zone and get set up. Also, winning that initial faceoff in the offensive zone has been a problem.
How many times over the past few seasons have we seen the Sabres attempt a drop pass to enter the zone? Or one player skate end to end, attempting to use speed or dekes to enter the zone? For the most part, Buffalo’s plan to enter the zone and get their formation set up on the power play is taking too long, and they are losing large portions of time because of it.
Buffalo need to simplify their attack and figure out how to get set up in the offensive zone. Once they can do that, they can use their time more effectively and get some quality shots on goal.