Reprinted with permission from hockeybuzz.com
A Tale of Two Halves.
The Buffalo Sabres headed into the month having won two of their last three in October and they continued with that momentum into November. They started out 4-1-0 over the first two weeks but they hit a Western Conference wall along the way as they played six games in 11 days against conference powers.
Their six-game winless streak (0-4-2) began with an OT loss to a struggling San Jose Sharks team followed by a 0-3-1 record while alternating between the Dallas Stars and St. Louis Blues, both of whom were parked atop the conference. An always tough Nashville Predators then team stymied Buffalo before the Sabres got a reprieve.
A big disappointment during that winless streak came from special teams as the Sabres powerplay dried up. They went a cumulative 1-18 (5.5%) and, most disturbingly, couldn't capitalize on four 5-on-3 chances including two in one game at St. Louis (a 3-2 SO loss.) . Overall, however, the team scored six pp goals on 31 chances (19.4%) and they actually jumped a spot in the pp-rankings going from 9th to 8th. It should be noted that the Sabres powerplay was as high as third in the league at one point.
Buffalo's 6-5-2 record for the month of November was solid considering the scheduler did them no favors. They completed their four-game season series against the defending Eastern Conference Champion Tampa Bay Lightning with a 4-1 win while also completing their series against the Stars, Blues and Preds who are ranked Nos. 1, 2, and 4 in the conference, respectively. At the end of the day one could say the Sabres held the fort during a pretty difficult month mostly due to their defense, especially goaltending.
As mentioned in the previous blog, Chad Johnson was a veritable force in net as he brought down his goals against average from 3.16 to 2.37 while upping his save percentage from .881 to .913. During his 3-1-1 month he stopped all but eight of 174 shots (.953 sv%) and helped propel the team from 24th in overall gaa to 13th even though the Sabres allowed slightly more shots/game than the previous month.
The last two games of the month were huge for Buffalo as they not only stopped the six-game winless streak, but the won consecutive games by identical 4-1 scores. In doing so they managed to keep their goal differential at minus-8 for the season. For posterity's sake, the Sabres finished last season with a whopping minus-116 goal differential.
A strong beginning and a two-game win streak to end last month kept everything pretty much status quo in the standings despite that rough patch. They remain 7th in the division, jumped up a slot to13th in the conference and are still 24th in the league.
Two things to keep an eye on moving forward--shots/game and the penalty kill.
There was an alarming drop in the shots department as Buffalo went from 33.8 per game down to 29.5 moving them from 1st in the league down to 18th. Teams put the clamp-down on head coach Dan Bylsma's up-tempo scheme and even though they're managing a slightly better shooting percentage (6.6% in October, 7.0% in November,) it wasn't good enough to counter the sharp decline in shots/game. Their 2.21 goals/game dropped slightly from the previous month (2.27) but they dropped from 22nd to 27th in the league.
With shots down and the powerplay absent for a good chunk of the month, the Sabres relied upon defense and even though shots-against were up, their team gaa was down. Johnson told the media after practice on Sunday that the team is starting to gel on defense, especially the penalty kill. It's something that helped up the team's kill rate to 75.4% good for 26th in the league.
The Sabres kick off December with a game at "The Joe" vs. the Detroit Red Wings, a team they haven't beaten in over a year (Nov. 2, 2014; 3-2 SO.) They're 1-9-0 in their last 10 against Detroit, 1-8-1 on the road according to Sabres PR.
Buffalo Sabres Team Stats:
--October: 4 (T-23rd)...(MTL, 10)
--November: 10 (T-20th)...(DAL, 19)
--2014-15: 23 (30th)...(ANA, 49)
Atlantic Division Standing
Eastern Conference Standing
--October: 24th/8 pts...(MTL/20)
--October: 36.4 (24th)...(MTL, 88.3)
--November: 45.8 (24th)...(DAL, 79.2)
--2014-15 32.9 (30th)...(NYR, 68.9)
--October: -8 (25th)...(MTL, +22)
--November: -8 (22nd)...(MTL, +32)
--2014-15 -116 (30th)...(NYR, +60)
--October: 2.27 (22nd)...(BOS, 3.90)
--November: 2.21 (27th)...(DAL, 3.50)
--2014-15: 1.87 (30th)...(TBL, 3.16)
--October: 33.8 (1st)
--November: 29.5 (18th)...(LAK, 32.1)
--2014-15: 24.2 (30th)...(CHI, 33.9)
--October: 3.09 (24th)...(PIT, 1.82)
--November: 2.54 (13th)...(NYR, 2.08)
--2014-15: 3.28 (29th)...(MTL, 2.24)
--October: 26.9 (5th)...(WSH, 25.1)
--November: 28.4 (5th)...(CAR, 25.3)
--2014-15: 35.6 (30th)...(LAK, 27.0)
--October: 22.7% (9th)...(BOS, 35.3)
--November: 21.3 (8th)...(BOS, 32.4)
--2014-15: 13.4 (30th)...(WSH, 25.3)
--October: 71.4% (29th)...(NYI, 92.3)
--November: 75.4 (26th)...(ANA, 87.5)
--2014-15: 75.1 (30th)...(MIN, 86.3)
--October: 50.4% (14th)...(SJS, 53.7)
--November: 50.1 (17th)...(CAR, 54.0)
--2014-15: 44.9 (30th)...(BOS, 53.6)