Reprinted with permission from hockeybuzz.com
The Buffalo Sabres hit Pittsburgh tonight for a tilt with the Penguins before returning home tomorrow to take on the Detroit Red Wings. In the process they hope to say goodbye to an ugly start to the season. (For posterity's sake, Buffalo was 1-9-1 after 11 games, 2-12-1 to for the month of October.)
For as bad as October was to open the season, there is a bright spot. The Sabres have a top-10 penalty kill unit allowing only six goals on 41 opportunities for a 85.4 kill percentage. And in a tribute to how well the goalies have played, despite giving up a league-high 36.7 shots per game, their team goals against comes in at 3.27, good for 21st in the league.
Unfortunately, that's the good news.
Buffalo's 2-8-1 record puts them in second to last place in the league, three points ahead of the Carolina Hurricanes who have been plagued by injuries to star players thus far. Jordan Staal is out for at least a couple more months while Jeff Skinner is out while recovering from concussion issues. Staal's brother, and Carolina captain, Eric, joined the team for their last game in Vancouver after being out to start the season. The 'Canes have three games in hand on the Sabres.
The major problem in Buffalo is that they can't score. They can't score because they can't get shots away. They can't get shots away because they don't have the puck often and one of the reasons they don't have the puck is they are a league worst 41.4% on the draw.
Their poor percentage can be attributed to a number of things, one of them being youth. Tyler Ennis (25 yrs. old,) Zemgus Girgensons (20) and the recently reassigned (to junior) Sam Reinhart (18) took a total of 331 faceoffs in October winning only 123 for a meager 37.1%. But not all the blame should be placed upon their young shoulders. Head coach Ted Nolan has been calling his team out for lack of compete and one of the areas that's being hard-hit is faceoff percentage as his team has been unable to control a neutral puck.
That lack of compete also cripples their ability to get into areas for shots and makes goal-scoring nearly impossible.
The Sabres are the worst team in the league in registering only 21.2 shots per game, nearly four back of the next worst team, Carolina (25.1.) Consequently, they're the lowest scoring team in the league at an historically low 1.09 goals/game.
It's gotten so bad that after being shut out four times in a six game stretch (scoring only one goal each in the other two games) it's a minor miracle if they score two goals in a game. Only once have they surpassed the two-goal mark. Buffalo managed three against Carolina.
One area that would really help in the scoring department is the powerplay. Unfortunately it remains an area of concern. Last season Buffalo finished 29th in the league at 14.1%. They're back in 29th to start this year as they've managed only one goal on 34 opportunities for a pathetic 2.9% conversion rate.
Tonight the Sabres will be facing their offensive opposites as they kick off the month of November with a game against the highest scoring team in the league. The Penguins are averaging 4.00 pts./game thanks in large part to a powerplay clocking in at just under 40% (15 of 38.)
Of note for tonight's game. The Penguins have won 11 of the last 15 meetings with the Sabres dating back to February, 2010 and last season they took all three meetings by a combined score of 12-2.
Buffalo Sabres Team Stats:
--October: 2 (29th)...(NHL Leader--ANA, 9)
--October: 5 (29th)...(ANA, 18)
--October: .227 (29th)...(MTL, .773)
Atlantic Division Standing
Eastern Conference Standing
--October: 1.09 (30th)...(PIT, 4.00)
--October: 21.2 (30th)...(CHI, 38.1)
--October: 3.27 (21st)...(ANA, 1.83)
--October: 36.7 (30th)...(MIN, 23.2)
--October: 2.9% (29th)...(PIT, 39.5)
--October: 85.4 (9th)...(DET, 94.1)
--October: 41.4 (30th)...(CAR, 54.4)