For the first time in five years of logging month-by-month team stats, the Buffalo Sabres are No.1 in one statistical category and I must admit that I wasn't sure what to do for a second after logging that number.
Head coach Dan Bylsma's aggressive, up-tempo style has the Sabres putting more shots on goal per game than any other team in the league last month. Their 33.8 s/gm barely edges out a team they beat twice last week, the Philadelphia Flyers, who averaged 33.5 s/gm. One could probably say that the Sabres beat the Flyers at their own game last week as the hallmark of a Philly team is attack with an aggressive forecheck while wearing the opposition down in their own zone with puck possession.
Buffalo put on a clinic in the game Friday vs. Philadelphia en route to a 3-1 victory. As mentioned yesterday, there was a four minute span in that game where the puck hit the Buffalo blueline twice. The offensive zone pressure resulted in Philadelphia taking two penalties and the Sabres on a two-man advantage for 1:06.
Buffalo outshot Philadelphia 36 to 28 for the game with the Sabres scoring three goals on 32 shots when Nic Deslauriers put the team up 3-0 at the 3:12-mark of the third period. In the last three games (2-1 record) the team has outshot Philadelphia (twice) and Pittsburgh by a combined 129 to 80.
Thanks to the Sabres PR department we have the following:
--The Sabres have outshot their opponents in nine of their first 11 games this season, posting a 4-5-0 record in those games. Last season, the Sabres hadn’t outshot their opponents nine times until their 77th game and finished the season 5-5-0 in 10 games when outshooting their opponent.
--The Sabres have led their opponent in even-strength shot attempts (corsi) in six of the team’s 11 games this season, going 3-3-0 in those games.
Although Buffalo's shooting percentage is just under 6.5% and many of the shots have made for routine save, the goals will come if they continue to control the play and put pucks to the net.
In looking at the month of October, not surprisingly, all team stats are up from last season. Buffalo crept up the bottom-third of the standings on the offensive side of the equation, something that was expected with the influx of talent. And, as expected, they're having some problems on the defensive side.
Buffalo is 5th best in the league allowing just about 27 sa/gm, but their 3.09 goals-against average ranks 24th. One would immediately point to poor goaltending for that anomaly as the Sabres have relied upon back-up Chad Johnson and rookie Linus Ullmark after the injury to starter Robin Lehner. For now, however, that gaa is more a product of higher-quality shots allowed and tips finding the back of the net than anything else. And it doesn't help that their penalty kill (71.4%) is 29th in the league at worse percentage than last year's finish.
This 4-7-0 Sabres team, despite it's shortcomings, has brought excitement to the First Niagara Center while causing some headaches in opposing arenas. They're still getting a feel for each other as well as the new coaching staff and their scheme, but they're skating with a 200' x 85' sense of purpose and coming back to the bench leaving it all on the ice. A 1-4 start was followed up with three wins in six games and they've only had one true clunker, the 7-2 loss at the hands of a red-hot Montreal Canadiens squad that started out the season 9-0.
The adrenaline that's been running through the youngins to start the season will eventually give way to the grind of an 82-game season and how they adapt, as well as who steps up, is yet to be determined. There's also still a lot of adjustments to make and that includes players like Jack Eichel. Kris Baker of sabresprospects.com/Sabres.com reminded me that Eichel is coming from the college ranks where they played almost exclusively on the weekend. Eichel played in a total of 40 games for Boston University last season, less than half of the 82-game NHL schedule.
Also, players like Ryan O'Reilly and Rasmus Ristolainen have seen their ice-time rise considerably under Bylsma so far this season due to injuries as well as their performance. O'Reilly played a career-high 26:03 Friday vs. Philly of which Bylsma said to the media, "I maybe rode him a little hard tonight but he was the best player on the ice in pretty much every situation tonight." With top forwards Evander Kane and Tyler Ennis out the last two games, O'Reilly took it upon himself to carry the load the last two games as he was in on five of the Sabres six goals (1g, 4a.)
As for Ristolainen, he just turned 21 on Tuesday and he's had to hold together the defense in the absence of top-four d-man Zach Bogosian. His 24:13 ATOI ranks 18th in the NHL.
It's something to keep an eye, but all things considered, it's been a decent start to the 2015-16 season.
Buffalo Sabres Team Stats:
--October: 4 (T-23rd)...(MTL, 10)
--2014-15: 23 (30th)...(ANA, 49)
Atlantic Division Standing
Eastern Conference Standing
--October: 36.4 (24th)...(MTL, 88.3)
--2014-15 32.9 (30th)...(NYR, 68.9)
--October: -8 (25th)...(MTL, +22)
--2014-15 -116...(NYR, +60)
--October: 2.27 (22nd)...(BOS, 3.90)
--2014-15: 1.87 (30th)...(TBL, 3.16)
--October: 33.8 (1st)
--2014-15: 24.2 (30th)...(CHI, 33.9)
--October: 3.09 (24th)...(PIT, 1.82)
--2014-15: 3.28 (29th)...(MTL, 2.24)
--October: 26.9 (5th)...(WSH, 25.1)
--2014-15: 35.6 (30th)...(LAK, 27.0)
--October: 22.7 (9th)...(BOS, 35.3)
--2014-15: 13.4 (30th)...(WSH, 25.3)
--October: 71.4 (29th)...(NYI, 92.3)
--2014-15: 75.1 (30th)...(MIN, 86.3)
--October: 50.4 (14th)...(SJS, 53.7)
--2014-15: 44.9 (30th)...(BOS, 53.6)