Buffalo Sabres: 5 Early Observations from the 2014-15 Season
It's been a rough start to the Buffalo Sabres' 2014-15 season, but not too many can say they didn't expect it.
The team sits at 1-6-0, squarely last in the league while also ranking last in a number of important areas of the game. As far as starts go, it seems the 4-15-1 start under Ron Rolston last year is well within reach, and it could possibly be even worse.
So what can be gleaned from the Sabres' first seven games? Well, beyond the fact that it's going to be a long, long season?
Scoring Has Been Hard, Again
Last season, the Sabres were 30th in the NHL in goals for, managing a paltry 150 for the season.
This season, it looks like they have picked up right where they left off.
After seven games, the Sabres have scored only eight goals, including zero on the power play. That includes a three-goal "outburst" against the injury-riddled Carolina Hurricanes a little over a week ago.
There's one big reason they aren't scoring goals—back to that in a minute—but whatever the reason, the Sabres won't even be competitive if they can't score at a better rate than last year, as we've seen so far.
Tyler Ennis has three goals, Marcus Foligno and Zemgus Girgensons have two and Torrey Mitchell has scored the other one for the Sabres this season. If there is to be any improvement, the Sabres need contributions from guys like Cody Hodgson, Drew Stafford, Chris Stewart and Matt Moulson.
If the Sabres can't start finding the back of the net, they may not reach the 150-goal mark they were mocked for last season.
Possession-Wise, This Is Going to Be Ugly
The biggest reason the Sabres have not been able to score goals is easy: Other teams are dominating possession.
Dominating may not even be strong enough of a word for what is happening to the Sabres possession-wise, either.
Right now, the Sabres rank 30th in the league in Fenwick-for percentage, per war-on-ice.com. Fenwick measures a team's shots on net plus their missed shots on net. So far through six games, the Sabres have only managed to create 37.43 percent of the Fenwick events that have been recorded in their contests.
At even strength, the number is even worse, with the Sabres only running at a 34.32 percent Fenwick-for clip, almost eight percentage points worse than the next team.
Possession numbers are a factor in a lot of what goes on during a game, and with numbers that bad, it's no wonder the Sabres have struggled in most facets of the game.
For those who aren't into advanced statistics, it is just as blatant on the ice as the numbers suggest. The neutral-zone play is horrendous, and the defensive-zone transition is probably better on your kid's squirt team. If you don't control the puck out of the defensive zone, through the neutral zone and into the offensive zone, you not only cannot score, but it becomes harder to prevent the other team from scoring as well.
If the Sabres cannot get this in check, this season will continue to get uglier.
The Power Play Needs Some Work
OK, a lot of work.
So far, the Sabres are 0-for-24 on the power play, and each opportunity with the man advantage seems to get worse and worse.
The Sabres have only managed 46 shots, per War On Ice, during their time with the man advantage, a number they desperately need to improve on to even begin to improve the power play.
But the shots come from solid play, and the Sabres have been anything but solid with the man advantage. The zone entries are awful. The puck movement in the offensive zone is terrible. The shot selection, or lack thereof, is atrocious. Everything looks rushed and forced.
Now, the personnel may have something to do with it, but the system itself has to adapt to that, and that's something that just has not happened.
While the penalty kill has been better─currently ranked fifth in the league─the Sabres have done a great job blocking shots the first six games. If that falls off, expect the PK to suffer as well.
Tyler Myers and Josh Gorges Have Been Great
If there has been one positive this season for the Sabres, it's been the play of the first pairing on defense.
Tyler Myers, who always seems to be the subject of plenty of trade rumors, and Josh Gorges, who was just traded to the Sabres this summer, have helped the Sabres keep their games a bit closer than they might have been otherwise.
Myers has enjoyed a resurgence so far this season, and Gorges is likely a big part of it. Just watching Myers, he seems looser and more comfortable on the ice, especially with the play moving forward. With a steady, defensive-minded partner in Gorges, Myers has a lot less running around to do this year than in past years.
Myers and Gorges play against the best competition the opposition has to offer, and Myers leads the team in relative Corsi/Fenwick, all while playing the ninth-most minutes a night in the NHL so far. Myers and Gorges also see less than 40 percent of their shifts start in the offensive zone, which would help pad their possession stats (see chart at War On Ice).
Both are stuck with zero points, but with eight goals scored, the fact that they're doing as much as they're doing to keep the puck out of the net is enough right now.
Ted Nolan Is in over His Head
When you have a roster full of holes you could drive a Mack truck through, it's hard to get down on the coach.
Most of the time.
Nolan has stressed hustle and compete from his team since he took over just about a year ago, and those are great things on an ice rink, but unfortunately, they can be beat by talent.
So at this point in the young season, with the team sitting at 1-6-0—their only victory coming against a team that was without its four best skaters—where is Ted Nolan's head?
Pretty clearly underwater.
Nolan has come after the team, referring to them as a peewee squad in a postgame press conference after their first loss to the Anaheim Ducks a little over a week ago. He's tried to motivate by publicly saying a benching is not too far off, like he did with Rasmus Ristolainen last week.
This just reeks of a coach who has no answers for what his team is going through.
And while that is not too surprising given the state of the roster, his moves with it have not inspired confidence from too many. The biggest example is letting Nikita Zadorov rot in the press box─albeit due to a very complicated situation with the KHL─while Andre Benoit, Andrej Meszaros and Tyson Strachan all make Mission McDavid look like a lock.
But other examples, such as Mark Pysyk's demotion to the AHL and Nolan's handling of Sam Reinhart, who is surely only here for his nine-game tryout period, have made many question the coach's ability to handle what is likely to be a very young but very talented roster in the future.
If he makes it that far, that is.
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