A promising week ended on a sour note Saturday night as the Buffalo Sabres fell 2-1 to the Nashville Predators, snapping their three-game win streak. The Sabres didn’t play a particularly great game against the Predators, but they were very much in it the whole way with a chance to take two points and gain some ground in the eastern conference.
The Sabres opened the scoring with just over a minute remaining in the first period when Sam Reinhart received a laser of a pass from Rasmus Dahlin, giving him a wide-open net to give the Sabres a 1-0 lead.
The most impressive part of this pass from Dahlin is that it’s so quick through four Predators skaters that Reinhart has enough time to settle the puck and still leave Pekka Rinne without a chance to stop it. Just to further illustrate the insanity that this pass was, a shot like this was given a 4.1% expected goals for (moneypuck.com). It takes a very special pass to help a teammate beat an XG like that, Dahlin managed to beat four defenders and a goalie with that pass.
The Predators would tie the game early in the second period as the Sabres were caught chasing the puck in their own end, leaving Ryan Johansen open on the doorstep to put the rebound home.
The Sabres skaters were clearly exhausted and in desperate need of a change but Evan Rodrigues was unable to get the puck deep, forcing the tired group to continue defending. The Predators wound up carving the defensive structure of the Sabres up on their zone entry, and by the time they could get settled it was too late.
The game winner would come at the 6:30 mark of the third in similar fashion. The Sabres were under siege for back to back shifts and their inability to clear the puck led to Jack Eichel taking a tripping penalty, sending the Predators to the power play. It took them just six seconds to convert as Roman Josi’s slap pass was deflected in the high slot by Craig Smith past Linus Ullmark.
The Sabres were unable to mount any sort of sustained pressure in the final six or so minutes as the Predators comfortably hung on for the 2-1 win.
Bogosian’s role on the Sabres remains a mystery to everyone. He was the subject of trade rumours after allegedly requesting to be moved, and for his efforts he was inexplicably rewarded with regular playing time. I can only conclude from this that Sabres are hoping the playing time will somehow increase his trade value because the alternative theories are exponentially sadder.
Bogosian has an expected goals for percentage of 42.71% and a very low offensive zone start percentage of 35%. Whatever role the Sabres have made for Bogosian clearly isn’t working for him or the Sabres. Discontent among veterans on your squad is never ideal, but if there’s no place for that player that won’t hurt the teams results, you really don’t have much of a choice.
This was a routine defensive play from last night’s game that Bogosian somehow turned into a partial odd man rush in the offensive zone. It’s become a common occurrence for Bogosian and it does nothing to help the Sabres or his trade value. Both sides are refusing to accept the reality here and it’s hurting both of them by dragging Bogosian’s trade value even lower and costing the Sabres valuable points in the standings.
The Sabres are 5-3 in the month of January but the numbers suggest a combination of luck and potentially unsustainable goaltending have more to do with that than anything else. After last night’s tilt in Nashville, the Sabres sit second last in both expected goals for% and shot attempts% at 5v5 in January. Granted, the Sabres are missing one of their best 5v5 skaters in Jeff Skinner, but a lot of what’s driven them to the bottom of both stats can be traced back to decisions made regarding the lineup.
In his last five games, Lawrence Pilut has received an offensive zone start percentage of 5.88%. The defensemen brought in all the way from Sweden specifically to help to create offense has been asked to play the kind of role I thought went extinct after the last lockout. In case you were wondering, the next closest is Zach Bogosian at 7.69%
Rasmus Ristolainen and Brandon Montour have been given the most ice time of the defenders and neither of them have produced good results. In Montour’s case, he’s been handed the most generous usage at 5v5 and somehow has a worse XGF% than Henri Jokiharju, who has been asked to play a more defensive role lately.
Conor Sheary had the second best possession and fourth best expected goals for stats at 5v5 of any forward in the last four games and was inexplicably relegated to the fourth line. We can’t pretend like the Sabres have a plethora of depth to call upon but it would appear that what little they do have they aren’t keen on using to its full potential. Perhaps they don’t want to tamper with their strong defensive play at 5v5, however the offense has dropped to a point where even a top 10 defense can’t make up for it. The Sabres have generated the lowest expected goals for of any team and if they don’t make some changes soon, a season crushing losing streak may be on the horizon.
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