If you’re wondering how the much-more-watchable Sabres could possibly sit 12 points out of playoff contention, look no further than 1 Seymour H Knox III Plaza.
The Sabres will face the Florida Panthers Tuesday night at First Niagara Center. It’ll be their 28th home game of the season. They’re 9-15-3 and that holds the unfortunate statistic of the fewest number of points earned at home by any team in the NHL.
Like snow in late March, the dream of contending for the playoffs this year is quickly melting away and the easiest place to point is their record at home. They continue to struggle, especially against divisional foes like the Panthers, Bruins, and Red Wings.
And they’re often losing by more than a goal. At home, Buffalo has lost by one goal eight times, by two goals four times and by three or more goals six times. Not exactly home-sweet-home numbers. By comparison, the Chicago Blackhawks are a league-best 21-5-1 at the United Center.
For some reason, they can’t seem to generate offense at home. Buffalo has scored 120 goals this year, good for 29th overall. Their 2.26 goal per game average is 28th in the league. But a deeper dive into the numbers shows they’ve lit the lamp only 52 times at home–averaging a league-worst 1.93 goals at home. The next closest is Vancouver at 2.25 goals per game.
For reference, here’s a look at the Sabres’ average goals for per game at home over the last five years:
2014-15 season – 1.93 goals
2013-14 season – 2.07 goals
2012-13 season – 2.42 goals
2011-12 season – 2.95 goals
2010-11 season – 3.00 goals
You don’t have to be a mathematician to notice a bad trend there. And while it’s somewhat consistent with lower goal scoring league-wide, the problem seems to have hit Buffalo much harder.
Diving even deeper, let’s take a look at the power play. Overall, the Sabres rank a respective 7th overall in the league, lighting the lap 20.4% of their chances. At home, they convert a mediocre 18.0% of their power play chances (24th overall). By contrast, on the road, they convert a sizzling 23.3% of their chances (tied for 3rd overall with San Jose). Only the L.A. Kings (25.5%) and the Senators (23.7%) are better.
The last two games against Boston were classic examples of the Sabres winning a point, but more importantly, losing a point. Up 2-0 at home, they needed to put the pressure on. But instead, Boston, the third best road team in the league, stormed back and eventually won in a shootout. In Boston, well… let’s not talk about the officiating and Mr. Marchand, shall we? Making up ground is hard in the NHL. Giving away much-needed points like they did against the Bruins will get you nowhere.
If the Sabres were .500 at home, say with a 12-12-3 record, they’d have six more points. That would mean they’d have to make up only six points and climb over four teams to snag a wild card spot. Still a tall order, but much more possible.
If you think the 2015-2016 edition of the Sabres are more watchable compared to the past few seasons, it’s because they are. Probably because you’re watching them on television while they’re playing a road game.
Why this team is struggling at home is anyone’s guess. But it’s up to Byslma and his players to find an answer. Wouldn’t it be nice if they were watchable and winning?