The Broad Statement: Sabres Stagnant PP

Welcome to The Broad Statement, my new regular column on TCB. In this column I will be addressing all things Sabres as the 2018-19 season progresses, up first: The Sabres Powerplay issues. Hope you Enjoy!

The Buffalo Sabres have been one of the worst 5v5 scoring teams in the NHL for the last few seasons.

This is no surprise to anyone, but for the last 2 years they have been able to make up for their terrible 5v5 numbers with solid powerplay production… but this year the powerplay hasn’t been able to generate much success.

Currently in a 1/16 stretch (including 0/6 against Vegas and 0/7 against Colorado) the Sabres need to change something and fast.

The current powerplay is clicking at 16.7% on the season (21st in the league)and for the most part both units are struggling.

Sabres PP Units

Unit 1
Sheary-Eichel-Reinhart
Ristolainen-Okposo

Unit 2
Thompson-Mittelstadt-Skinner
Dahlin-Rodrigues

On paper both of these units look capable of having great success on the man advantage, but when you actually watch them play (particularly the top unit) it has been downright abysmal.

Sabres Powerplay Issues

In my mind there is a lot wrong with the current powerplay, but the main issues that I have with the Sabres Pp are:

-PP Zone Entries
-Lack of Urgency
-No designed “Trigger Man”

PP Zone Entries

This is a problem that the Sabres have 5v5 as well, but they cannot enter the opponent’s zone to even set up their powerplay.

Jack Eichel is the only player who can consistently gain access to the opponent’s zone, and because of this their strategy of entering the opposing team’s zone is extremely predictable.

Other teams know that once the Sabres break out the puck will be going to Eichel and he will be responsible for trying to set up the powerplay… other team’s simply key on Eichel and take away his ice preventing the Sabres from entering the zone.

The second unit doesn’t have as big of a problem as entering the opponents zone because Mittelstadt, Skinner or Dahlin are capable of entering the zone with speed and backing the opposing defenders off of them.

Ideally Housley would change up his top unit (getting Risto and/or Okposo off the top unit would be ideal), and add another skilled speedy player to give the unit another player who has the ability to help Eichel set up the powerplay in the offensive zone.

But…since it doesn’t look like Housley will be changing the personnel he and his staff will have to come up with a new strategy for entering the zone or the problems will continue all season long.

Lack of Urgency

Watching the Sabres on the powerplay it is clear that they lack the urgency that the leagues top unit has.

They look out to lunch at times, they are constantly stationary, don’t move around to create outlets for their set up guys, turn the puck over way too often, and rarely hold the blueline allowing the other team to clear the puck with ease.

This is a big reason the Sabres have consistently given up short handed goals to the opposing team, and that trend continued against the Golden Knights when they allowed Cody Eakin to score a man short.

The Capitals are one of the best powerplays in the league, and if you look at one of Ovechkin’s goals from last night you will see how effective a powerplay can be when players are consistently moving around and forcing the penalty killers to have their heads on a swivel:

Ovechkin PP goal #2

The Capitals are constantly moving, even Oshie in the slot… no one is stagnant or stationary. This opens up the penalty killers and creates passing lanes that allows the puck to be fed to Ovechkin for the one-timer.

While the Sabres have done this a few times, it isn’t consistent enough to sustain success. Too many times they find themselves stationary, and this allows the penalty killers to be extremely aggressive and essentially negate the powerplay.

No Designed “Trigger Man”

This is the biggest issue that I have with the Sabres current powerplay. While the best PP units have five guys who can score, most of them have a guy that they try to set up for a shot.

The Jets have Laine, the Lightning have Stamkos, Capitals have Ovie, even the Leafs have Matthews or Tavares. The Sabres don’t really have a consistent trigger man.

The top choice for the Sabres should be Jack Eichel, he has the best shot on the team and has shown that he can blast the puck by any goalie in the league.

Just look at his goal against Vegas:

Eichel Powerplay Goal

Eichel on his off-wing in “Ovie’s office” can be deadly, but too many times they don’t have him set up there… and too often they rely on Eichel to be the quarterback on the powerplay.

Hopefully once Dahlin is ready to QB the top unit they can set up Eichel as the trigger man and allow him to tee-off the way Laine, Ovie and Stamkos do.

Here are two examples of how having a set up trigger man can create success for a team’s powerplay:

Ovechkin PP goal #1

Laine Powerplay Goal

In both examples you can see Laine and Ovechkin stay in the shooting area but move around that area and allowing themselves to be open for the shot.

Something that the Sabres need to have Eichel do from now on, although his passing is elite Eichel would be much more effective on the powerplay as a shooter. Ristolainen, Sheary and Reinhart have great passing ability, but their shots fail in comparison to Eichel’s.

Housley needs to utilize his best shooter in a way that will allow the powerplay to succeed on a consistent basis.

The second takeaway from those examples is that both Washington and Winnipeg are using their shooter as their primary option.

On the Ovechkin goal Carlson scrambles to keep the puck in and then immediately feeds Ovechkin for the shot.

On Laine’s goal the Jets showcase beautiful passing, but they use the passing to create the lane that eventually leads to a Laine one-timer.

The Sabres need to use their passing to open up the penalty kill and create a passing lane for Eichel on his off-wing allowing him to tee off on the goalie regularly.

It’s early, and the Sabres are 3-3-0 but if they can’t consistently generate offence on special teams they won’t have any success… and my opinion may not be perfect, but if the Sabres can fix the problems I addressed above then they should have more success than they have had early on in the season.

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