The Sabres are spinning their wheels and just can't seem to get out of the muck. Sure, there are injuries, especially on defense with Rasmus Ristolainen sidelined the last four games, but scoring has been the real problem with this team as of late. Buffalo has scored just one goal in three of their last four games while going 1-3-1 in the process. Prior to that the Sabres had been held to one goal twice all season, and that came in consecutive games late last month..
As mentioned recently here, it's been a schizophrenic season for this addition of the Buffalo Sabres and it's enough to make anyone in Sabreland want to bang their heads against the wall. Head coach Phil Housley has stuck with a mostly positive message for his players thus far and in the process took some heat for it in the press. After Saturday's overtime loss in Montreal it continued with that approach as he told the gathered media that he liked his team's effort and that they created a number of opportunities, but that they just couldn't capitalize on them.
"I can't fault the effort of our guys," said Housley, "we outshot them and out-chanced them. I thought the guys played real hard."
When asked about the difficulties his team has had scoring as of late, Housley went back to what the team was doing right. "I thought tonight was a start," he said, in reference to his team trying to get out of a scoring slump. "I thought it was our best night, we got pucks to the net, we were really gritty and dirty in front of the net. What was intriguing to me is when we delivered shots to the net guys were willing to pay a price in front of the net and get second opportunities.
"If we continue to do that, we'll score more goals, but we have to do it on a consistent basis."
Consistency has been a huge issue for this team thus far, whether it's shift to shift, period to period or game-to-game. But it would seem as if they're beginning to bring it on more consistent basis as they've played three good games in a row and have either won or kept it tight in four of the last five yielding a 2-2-1 record.
The one troubling game of those five was the 5-1 loss at Dallas. It was the fourth time 14 games to that point where the Sabres were beaten by three or more goals. The Stars game was also the one where Housley caught some grief after saying his team got the start they wanted, and played well, but were victims of a couple of bad bounces early in the game.
Housley's 2017-18 Buffalo team is in a similar spot to where former coach Dan Bylsma had the Sabres last year. This year Buffalo is 5-9-3 (13 points) while last season they were 5-8-4 (14 points) through 17 games. When you count the 4-1 loss to the Florida Panthers, albeit with two empty net goals against, Buffalo has lost five games by three or more goals this season while last season they posted the same number of three-goal or more lossess. This year none of Buffalo's five wins were by three or more goals whereas last season the Sabres had two wins by three or more.
Those huge swings under Bylsma last season were also evident in their streakiness at the same 17-game point of the season. After beginning 1-3-2, they won three in a row and four of five before going 0-5-1 in Games 12-17. After a 1-4-1 start this season, with their first win coming in Game-6, Buffalo has been roughly alternating wins and losses while compiling a 4-5-2 record since.
Further comparisons have the Sabres living off the powerplay a bit last season with 11 goals in 53 opportunities (20.8%) which helped contribute to two wins and three other loser-points (1 shootout, 2 overtime.) This season the Sabres are 8/57 (14.0%) with the powerplay contributing to zero wins and three loser points (1 shootout, 2 overtime.)
Goal scoring is also up for Buffalo this season--through 17 games this they've scored 40 (2.35/game) while last season the team scored 31 goals in 17 games (1.82 goals/game.) However, there's a big difference in goals-against as this edition has given up 3.47 ga/gm whereas last season it was only 2.58.
All the above numbers may show improvement, but none of hose are playoff numbers by any means. With goal scoring on the minds of those in Sabreland we're starting to hear about problems that have existed for years, namely, not being able to finish, and with that it would seem as if the narrative has begun to be directed towards the overall talent-level of this team.
"If you want to be Mr. Positive," said WGR550 Radio's Paul Hamilton after the Montreal game, "you could say the glass is half-full [and] it seems like more and more they're starting to catch on to Housley's system. It's not translating to points, it's not translating into wins, it's not translating into goals.
"Maybe they have to be a better team. Maybe they have to get better. Maybe they have to find more talent."
Hamilton went on to say that the team has five or six holes in the forward group to fill and that they're playing games with guys "that if you want to be a playoff team and a good team, probably aren't on the team."
Brutal, but probably true. Hamilton has also said time and again that their best players must be their best players, something that's been lacking on a consistent basis in the top-six.
Buffalo continues their three-game road trip with the next two on the road beginning with a Tuesday game at Pittsburgh against the two-time defending Stanley Cup Champion Penguins Then it's on to Detroit to face a Red Wings team that's won four of their last seven (4-2-1) on Friday.
Where will the Sabres find some answers to their scoring woes?
Methinks they'll continue to look within. Housley will juggle his lines and make some adjustments to a powerplay that scored a goal in each of it's last two games. Will it be enough?