Three goals, secondary scoring and the key to wins
It’s not a strong spot to be in for the Sabres.
Just after the new year, Buffalo is 18-17-4, hardly the Stanley Cup contender that many assumed they would be heading into the year.
While the unfortunate string of bumps and bruises has hindered the team from icing their ideal lineup, the results continue to be far from ideal. Is it the injuries to blame? Is it the horrendous environment at First Niagara Center? Is it the leadership to question? Who knows.
It’s all about whether the team can score three goals.
Sure, it seems simple, but really, that’s what separates the cream from the crop. Three goals.
It’s not just “Oh, we scored three goals tonight so that means we won, right?” but it’s accepting the concept that a team that scores three times is likely going to win more often than not if they can get decent goaltending. And there’s something to this.
In games the Sabres score three goals (not counting the one awarded for a shootout win), the team is 13-4-2, which excludes two shootout victories. Pretty simple, that if you outscore what’s considered average goaltending (which for all intents and purposes, we’ll call it a 2.50 GAA) in most cases, you’re going to win. Buffalo has exactly three wins when they don’t score that many, with two 2-1 victories and a 1-0 Jhonas Enroth shutout in Carolina.
Looking at it from the other way, when the team allows three goals, they’re 3-16-3, excluding the 3-2 shootout loss New Year’s eve against Ottawa. Wins over Winnipeg, Toronto and Edmonton, all at home, are the only high-scoring games that the team has gotten two points from.
Every team to win a Stanley Cup since the lockout has been a top team in scoring. The top ten currently are either at three goals per game (The Rangers, at 10th place, are scoring 2.95/game), so this “three goals” necessity is what separates the contenders from the garbage pile.
But it’s not the average offense that has been killing the team as much as the defense. Without having stellar goaltending to rely on, it’s up to the offense to compensate. In most instances, they haven’t. Which is why they’re sitting 11th in the East with just over forty games remaining.
The difference at this point is that the Sabres have gotten slightly below average goaltending this season, with Jhonas Enroth sitting at a 2.49 GAA and Ryan Miller floundering at 3.05. Buffalo is 22nd in goals against at 2.90 goals per game, compared to 2.62 goals for, which is tied for 16th with offensive powerhouse Nashville.
While Jason Pominville (13 goals, 27 assists) and Thomas Vanek (18 goals, 21 assists) have been spectacularly consistent offensively, no one else can claim the same.
Sure, the injury excuse has some merit in disrupting any chemistry between the forwards, only the captain and #26 have taken it upon themselves to step up. Excluding Jochen Hecht and his four goals in 13 games centering the leading scorers, Luke Adam, who at 10 goals and 10 assists through 39 games, is the only other Sabre on pace for 20 goals. In fact, other than the aforementioned, not one Sabres forward is on pace to top their final totals from last season, so just about everybody is down from where they were last year, when the team needed a heroic run to finish 7th in the conference.
The failing of the team’s depth in providing the goals necessary has created the tenuity the season is currently experiencing.
Derek Roy, who was a point-per-game player in 35 games last year, has 8 goals in 39 games. Drew Stafford has 7 in 38, coming off a career high 31 goals in 62 games. Tyler Ennis, marred by injury, has just 3 goals in 15 games after being a 20-goal guy last year. Among forwards, the guy below Stafford on the leaderboard is Nathan Gerbe at a miniscule 4.
Beyond them, you look around and there’s no contributions from depth. Cody McCormick, who got a three year contract thanks to an 8 goal, 12 assist campaign where he earned respect for stepping up and bringing toughness, has zero goals and has found himself in the press box. Paul Gaustad has been nowhere to be found, with just three on the year. Patrick Kaleta hasn’t done much to contribute either.
Even looking to the blueline, except for Jordan Leopold, whose seven goals and strong play has been a key to the team even being this close to the playoffs, there’s been nothing to speak of from the now-sidelined Christian Ehrhoff (3), who at least was playing well, or the soon-to-return Tyler Myers (2), who was downright awful until he got hurt.
These three goals need to be coming from somewhere, but where?
Let’s look at it this way. Break the team down into groups: top line, secondary scoring, depth and defense.
Thomas Vanek, Jason Pominville, Jochen Hecht
Derek Roy, Drew Stafford, Tyler Ennis, Brad Boyes, Ville Leino
Nathan Gerbe, Luke Adam, Paul Gaustad, Patrick Kaleta, Zack Kassian, Matt Ellis, Cody McCormick, any callups, etc.
Christian Ehrhoff, Jordan Leopold, Tyler Myers, Andrej Sekera, Marc-Andre Gragnani, Robyn Regehr, Mike Weber, Brayden McNabb, any callups, etc.
Figure, you’d expect the top line to score at least 80 goals. Vanek should score 40 this year. Pominville’s on good pace for close to 30, and Hecht could hit 20 with as good as they’re going. Then look at the secondary group, you’d hope they’d all get near or over 20. They all should. Depth guys should be anywhere from 5-15 each if they are worthy of a roster spot. Defense, if they can all chip in here and there, outside of Ehrhoff, Leopold and Myers, who should all hit ten, you’re not expecting much.
Is it too much to look for three of the four groups to chip in a goal each night? Not all four, just three of the four. And that’s not even accounting for the event any of them get a bit saucy and decide to chip in two.
If three of the four score at least one, you’re going to pick up a lot of points in the standings. Averaging three goals a night for 82 games is 246 goals for on the season. Four teams in the East scored more than 240 last season, including Buffalo. Both teams that played for the Cup, Boston and Vancouver, both did.
Pretty incredible to think that something reasonable is the difference between a good team and average. To this point, they’re not even average.
So what do they need? Three goals.