Reprinted with permission from hockeybuzz.com
After finishing the month of December with a 5-7-2 record, the Buffalo Sabres found themselves in a familiar spot near the bottom of the standings in 28th place. Yet contrary to the belief of some, this team isn't anywhere near the prior two Sabres clubs that would finish last in the league while challenging the modern mark for scoring futility.
With frustrations mounting as the team rests a mere three points better than last years club, some from the local media are already raising eyebrows asking if the last two seasons were worth it. "Good to see how the tank has produced the 28th place team. Lower than ANYONE predicted," tweeted one Buffalo media member.
Not really. This "Bobby Blogger" wrote of the upcoming season in his 2015-16 Sabres preview:
"Fans are smart enough to know that this edition of the Buffalo Sabres isn't a Stanley Cup team, nor will they vie for Eastern Conference or even Atlantic Division supremacy. They've also been reminded time and again that the Sabres finished in last place for the second consecutive season with a measly 54 points. That total was 45 points out of a playoff spot and in order for them to reach playoff contention, they'll need to add over 20 more wins this season.
"It's hard to see that happening...
"...there will be plenty of growing pains and we're looking at a team that might be able to add 20-25 points this season. A 74-79 point finish means bottom-10 with the possibility of being bottom-five."
As the calendar on this season turns to 2016, the Sabres are presently on a pace for about 73 points, and as we do some quick comparisons between this year and last, it shows that this is a totally different team despite them being in the exact same spot this year as last.
Last season at this time, the Sabres were being outscored by an average of 1.5 goals/game for a goal differential of minus-52 compared this season where they average a minus-0.19 or a goal differential of a minus-13 this year.
Last December Buffalo had a shot differential of minus-12 per game while this season it's a plus-0.3. And as bad as their special teams have looked at times, their powerplay is far better than where they were at this point last season even though they just broke an 0-for-24 slump last night with one powerplay goal. The powerplay is still at 19.3% this season whereas it was 9.4% through December last season.
Gotta learn to walk before you run.
That said, the month of December was marked by inconsistency. It featured two, three-game losing streaks and two come-from-behind third period victories. They had one shutout and were shutout twice, won one game in OT, but failed to hold a third period lead and lost one in the shootout. They played some strong teams like Washington (home and home) and Chicago, while also facing some lesser teams like Edmonton and Anaheim.
In the end they finished the month 5-7-2.
The biggest failure of the month, at least the last half, was the powerplay. At one point, before going 0/24, the Sabres powerplay was right near the top of the league but now stands 15th. Worse than that, the Sabres' play with the man advantage during that slump was reminiscent of last year's, like they had no idea what they were doing.
A couple of tweaks by head coach Dan Bylsma may have rectified the situation, or at least they're headed in the right direction. Against Washington on Wednesday they moved Zemgus Girgensons to the 2nd PP unit and they generated six shots on goal in two powerplay opportunities. Last night he moved Jack Eichel to the top PP unit and they generated 11 shots on goal during the first three powerplays, including three shots with a two-man advantage for :54 seconds. They pumped three more shots on goal before Ryan O'Reilly finally broke through on their fourth powerplay of the game.
It doesn't seem like much, but the Sabres having that much zone time while generating that many shots is a huge step in the right direction. Now they just need to start burying their chances, especially five-on-three's where their presently 0-for-6.
Other than that, there wasn't much statistical movement anywhere team-wise other than shots against which dropped to 16th in the league, but luckily, thanks to some stellar goaltending, they've managed to keep their team goals against just about where it was last month.
For a young team still finding its way, one should expect more inconsistencies including uplifting surprises and deflating let-downs this month and it wouldn't be that far-fetched to see them with a similar middling record. If they finish the month in 28th place after January will it be cause for alarm? Not here.
There are other places to find a panic button.
Happy New Year everyone.
Buffalo Sabres Team Stats:
--October: 4 (T-23rd)...(MTL, 10)
--November: 10 (T-20th)...(DAL, 19)
--December: 15 (T-24th)...(DAL, WSH, 28)
--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)
--December: 44.7 (28th)...(WSH. 78.3)
--2014-15 32.9 (30th)...(NYR, 68.9)
--October: -8 (25th)...(MTL, +22)
--November: -8 (22nd)...(MTL, +32)
--December: -13 (22nd)...(DAL, +39)
--2014-15 -116 (30th)...(NYR, +60)
--October: 2.27 (22nd)...(BOS, 3.90)
--November: 2.21 (27th)...(DAL, 3.50)
--December: 2.29 (28th)...(DAL, 3.49)
--2014-15: 1.87 (30th)...(TBL, 3.16)
--October: 33.8 (1st)
--November: 29.5 (18th)...(LAK, 32.1)
--December: 29.7 (15th)...(DAL, 32.4)
--2014-15: 24.2 (30th)...(CHI, 33.9)
--October: 3.09 (24th)...(PIT, 1.82)
--November: 2.54 (13th)...(NYR, 2.08)
--December: 2.58 (14th)...(WSH, 2.11)
--2014-15: 3.28 (29th)...(MTL, 2.24)
--October: 26.9 (5th)...(WSH, 25.1)
--November: 28.4 (5th)...(CAR, 25.3)
--December: 29.4 (16th)...(CAR, 26.2)
--2014-15: 35.6 (30th)...(LAK, 27.0)
--October: 22.7% (9th)...(BOS, 35.3)
--November: 21.3 (8th)...(BOS, 32.4)
--December: 19.3 (15th)...(BOS, 29.4)
--2014-15: 13.4 (30th)...(WSH, 25.3)
--October: 71.4% (29th)...(NYI, 92.3)
--November: 75.4 (26th)...(ANA, 87.5)
--December: 77.4, (25th)...(ANA, 88.0)
--2014-15: 75.1 (30th)...(MIN, 86.3)
--October: 50.4% (14th)...(SJS, 53.7)
--November: 50.1 (17th)...(CAR, 54.0)
--December: 50.5 (13th)...(CAR, 53.2)
--2014-15: 44.9 (30th)...(BOS, 53.6)