The Sabres Have an Offense Problem; Buffalo Sabres vs. New York Islanders Game Preview 2/16/21

Expected Lines: 

Sabres 

Skinner-Eichel-Olofsson

Hall-Staal-Reinhart

Rieder-Eakin-Okposo

Fogarty-Sheahan-Thompson

Dahlin-Miller

McCabe*-Montour*

Irwin-Jokiharju

Hutton

*Game-time decisions. 

Islanders

Lee-Barzal-Bailey

Beauvillier-Nelson-Eberle

Dal Colle-Pageau-Wahlstrom

Martin-Cizikas-Clutterbuck

Pelech-Pulock

Leddy-Mayfield

Greene-Dobson

Sorokin

News and Notes:

McCabe and Montour back in the fold; will they play? 

Ralph Krueger confirmed this morning that defensemen Jake McCabe and Brandon Montour are both eligible to be activated into the lineup against the Islanders on Tuesday. The defensemen were each taken off the NHL’s COVID-19 protocol list this afternoon after being added earlier in February. 

Montour said earlier this week that he experienced symptoms and that his run-in with the virus was, “A tough couple weeks.”

On Monday, Brandon Davidson and Will Borgen made their season debuts for the Sabres on the back-end, stepping in for Montour and McCabe. Borgen, now 24, stands out especially, and is an intriguing piece to talk about moving forward. The combination of his smooth, powerful skating stride with the size and savviness to play in the NHL makes it hard to not want to see more. Regardless, Monday’s game was Borgen’s first live action in nearly a year. If McCabe and Montour are back in the fold, the Sabres will probably take it slow with Borgen. 

Avoiding a repeat of Monday

Until there’s a reason to think differently, this one has similar makings of last night’s game. Neither of these teams have shown an urgency to open things up offensively — each would rather secure a lead and suck the life out of the game, much like New York did on Monday. 

In last night’s game, the Islanders generated ten high-danger scoring chances to the Sabres’ four and 62.07% of the game’s total scoring chances (Natural Stat Trick). 

Not only did the Sabres allow more scoring chances and much better quality ones — their goaltending continued to let them down on low-danger opportunities. JG Pageau’s goal on Monday had a 2% expected-goal value according to Evolving-Hockey. 

In total, this just isn’t a winning formula:

  • Allowing a higher volume of scoring chances than you generate 
  • Allowing a higher volume of scoring chances than you generate 
  • Allowing a higher volume of scoring chances than you generate 

The Sabres know it, but results need to follow. Head Coach Ralph Krueger must find some way to get more offense out of this group — quickly. 

So where do they start? 

The Sabres Offense is Broken.

When a team is trailing by two goals and proceeds to go the entire third period without a shot, you don’t need to grasp at straws to identify the issue. It seems repetitive at this point, but the 2021 Sabres’ issue is pretty simple. They don’t generate offense at even strength.

The team is tied for second last in the NHL in expected goals-for with the Los Angeles Kings, slightly ahead of New Jersey in last place (Natural Stat Trick). 13 of the Sabres’ 29 goals on the season have come on the power play.

Sure, the Sabres are 5th in expected goals against — they can retreat back and trap up the neutral-zone with the best of them. The bigger problem is that they have $26M in cap space invested into three players they haven’t discovered how to use properly on this roster.

Jack Eichel — 2 goals

Taylor Hall — 1 goal

Jeff Skinner – 0 goals

Envisioning this season’s potential with Taylor Hall next to Jack Eichel — or even the idea of spreading the wealth, creating two lines that Buffalo could score with for the first time in over a decade — nobody imagined the offensive black hole that sucked away last night’s third period.

Yes, the Sabres are coming off of a two week break where multiple players have been dealing with COVID symptoms. Yes, the Islanders are among the league’s best defensive teams, especially with a lead.

But for anyone that’s been watching closely, this lack of offense seems to run deeper than fatigue issues.

Before the season, we all said: If the Sabres weren’t going to be good this year, they’d at least be exciting. They have all the pieces to do so. Yet the Sabres system appears to have broken the creativity that made these players into the stars they are.

Ralph Krueger has been lauded for his ability to tap into players and extract their best out of them. With the quick moving schedule, Krueger has to work his magic soon in order to start generating offense and keep this Sabres season afloat.

Prediction: 

3-1 Islanders. 

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