Published by hockeybuzz.com, 1-2-2017
The thing that really jumps out while pouring over these individual stats is that the team finally has some it's leaders reach double digits in some categories, which tells us just how abysmal the Sabres offense was through the first two months of the season.
Defenseman Rasmus Ristolainen powered through the Buffalo leaderboard right to the top with a 15-point month which included 12 assists and his first three goals of the season. The "Angry Finn" now has 25 points on the season which places him fourth in the league while his 22 assists places him third. Ristolainen also ranks fifth amongst NHL d-men in average time on ice with 26:42/game.
For years Sabres fans have been bemoaning the fact that Buffalo lacked a powerplay quarterback on the blueline, but they may have one now in Ristolainen. He lead the team with five powerplay assists in December and now totals 13 for the season, which places him tied for first in the league amongst defensemen with Victor Hedman of the Tampa Bay Lightning. Ristolainen is also second in overall powerplay points, one behind Hedman.
Three other players hit double digits in points for the month of December--Evander Kane, Jack Eichel and Sam "The Quiet One" Reinhart. Kane lead all Sabres with eight goals, Eichel was second with six and Reinhart was second to Ristolainen in assists with seven.
With Ristolainen emerging as a No. 1 defenseman and Eichel looking every bit the stud top-line center he was projected to be, the Sabres have two strong homegrown pieces making up the nucleus of the new core moving forward. Add in Ryan O'Reilly and Buffalo should have it's top two centers and top defenseman in place for years to come. Defining the rest of the core and what constitutes complimentary players is the rest of the puzzle.
Reinhart is an interesting study as he has his name in the top-three scoring categories this month. People tend to forget that "The Quiet One" was drafted out of the WHL as more of a set-up man which is something that's coming to the fore this season. Reinhart had seven assists in December bring his total to 14 assists overall which is second only to Ristolainen on the team. Four of his assists last month were primary bringing his total to 10 primary assists on the season tying him with Ristolainen for the team lead in that category.
A hot and cold Evander Kane was hot last month. His eight goals lead the team while his 10 points was second. Kane is a moody one and you can tell when he's disinterested by the game he plays. When he's on he's a driving force using his size, speed and attitude to barrel to the net, just like he did most of the month of December which resulted in him leading the Sabres in goals. When he's not, his disinterest shows in his nonchalant skating and desultory shots from all over the ice which are way off target. The last two games against Boston tell the latter story as he went pointless and was a minus-4 which dropped him down to a second-worst minus-5 rating for the month.
Okposo was signed by the Sabres to a long-term deal in the off season and he has his name throughout the scoring categories. If he's not leading a category he's almost always in the top-three and it's the reason he's second on the team with 23 points on 10 goals and 13 assists. His projections for the season places him a bit below than his previous three-year average but he's doing so while constantly having a different center and linemates.
The only constant in the scoring department for Buffalo this season has been the powerplay with all the aforementioned players, save for Kane, on the top unit. It's not surprising that all, except for Eichel who missed 21 games, are amongst the leaders in all scoring categories.
A big problem for the Sabres is scoring from the back-end. Cody Franson is the only defenseman other than Ristolainen with a goal, which he got on the powerplay in November. Ristolainen was the only one to score a goal last month as he tallied his first three of the season. For as much as the coaching staff would like their defensemen to join the offense, it's either not happening enough to create scoring opportunities or they just can't bury the opportunities they have.
Marcus Foligno earned some top-line minutes during December and acquitted himself well with five assists which tied him for third with a host of others but he only managed one goal and that came in the second to last game of the month. His two-way play was strong, however, as he lead the team with a plus-5 for he month. Jake McCabe was second on the team with a +3 and Franson came in at a +2. Zach Bogosian and Dmitry Kulikov were a team-worst minus-6 for the month.
Although the numbers for goaltenders Robin Lehner and Anders Nilsson didn't fluctuate too much from month to month, one would have liked to have seen a better performance from both during an important seven-game stretch against Eastern Conference foes to end the month. Beginning with the December 17 game at Carolina and ending with the New Year's Eve matinee in Boston, Buffalo's goalies gave up a combined 20 goals on 234 shots for a .914 Sv%. The team finished the 2016 portion of the season with a 1-4-2 record and dropped to the bottom of the Eastern Conference.
There was a notable improvement in scoring last month as opposed to the month of November but it was offset by slightly weaker defense and goaltending. The powerplay remained strong while the penalty kill remained weak. Is it any wonder that Buffalo had the exact same 5-6-3 December record as it had in November?
Buffalo Sabres 2016-17 Individual Stats leaders:
--October: Okposo, O'Reilly, Ristolainen, 7; Moulson, Brian Gionta, 5
--November: Okposo, Reinhart, 8; O'Reilly, 5
--December: Ristolainen, 15; Eichel, Kane, Reinhart, 10
--October: Okposo, Moulson 4; O'Reilly, Brian Gionta, 3
--November: Reinhart, 4; O'Reilly, Okposo, Moulson, Foligno, 3
--December: Kane, 8; Eichel, 6; Reinhart, Okposo, Gionta, Larsson, Ristolainen, 3
--October: Moulson, 4; O'Reilly, 2; Okposo, Sam Reinhart, 1
--November: Moulson, Okposo, 2; Eichel, Reinhart, O'Reilly, Larsson, Franson, 1
--December: Okposo, 3; Reinhart, 2; Eichel, Kane, Moulson, Ristolainen, 1
--October: Ristolainen, 7; O'Reilly, 4; Reinhart, Okposo, Franson, 3
--November: Okposo, 5; Reinhart, Ristolainen, 4; Kane, Franson, 3
--December: Ristolainen, 12; Reinhart, 7; O'Reilly, Okposo, Moulson, Gionta, Foligno, 5
--October: Ristolainen, 6; Okposo, 3; O'Reilly, Reinhart, 2
--November: Okposo, 4; O'Reilly, Reinhart, Ristolainen, 2
--December: Ristolainen, 5; O'Reilly, 3; Eichel, Moulson, 2
--October: O'Reilly, Reinhart, Ristolainen, 3; Gionta, Girgensons, 2
--November: Okposo, Kane, Reinhart, 3; Gionta, 2
--December: Ristolainen, 6; Reinhart, Okposo, 4;
--October: Gionta +3; Okposo, Franson +2
--November: Carrier +2; O'Reilly +1; Reinhart, Grant, Fedun, even
--December: Foligno +5; McCabe +3; Franson +2
--October: Tyler Ennis -4; Deslauriers, Grant -3
--November: Kane, Gionta -5; Larsson, -4
--December: Kulikov, Bogosian -6; Kane -5
--October: 2-2-1; 2.61 GAA; .913 Sv%; 0 shutouts
--November: 5-7-3; 2.40; .921; 0
--December: 8-12-5; 2.51; .921; 0
--October: 1-1-1; 1.96 GAA; .937 Sv%; 1 shutout
--November: 3-2-2; 2.20; .939; 1
--December: 5-3-3; 2.47; .925; 1