Sabres’ Problem is Special Teams

It’s that time of year again. The time where the Sabres make their annual late-season playoff push, only to fall short. With seven games remaining in the regular season, the Sabres are all but eliminated from postseason contention. Club Sports has the statistics on it, and the Sabres have a 0.2 percent chance of making the playoffs. At this point, winning out won’t even get them up to the 8th spot, let’s face it.

Last season, Buffalo was decimated by injuries, so at least that was a somewhat viable excuse, even though the team would never use that as a reason for finishing 9th in the Eastern Conference.

Apparently the team didn’t learn from its mistakes. A pitiful start to a shortened season is just too much to make up for. So how did they get here this season? Only a few injuries, so what’s the excuse this time.

Lindy Ruff was canned, but even under Ron Rolston, the team is not much better. Then, the Sabres traded their captain away to Minnesota, along with sending away Robyn Regehr, Jordan Leopold and T.J. Brennan, while acquiring draft picks and a couple prospects.

I can tell you why the Sabres are where they are in the standings. It’s actually quite simple – special teams.

Buffalo is ranked dead last on the power play with a 11.7 percentage. Not only that, but the Sabres have also allowed a league high of seven shorthanded goals on the season. The only other team that has allowed more than four is New Jersey.

On the other side of it, the Sabres are ranked 27th in the league when it comes to penalty killing.

Now, there’s more to this than you think, so stay with me.

The Sabres are actually a decent team when playing 5-on-5 action. Buffalo’s 73 goals puts them right in the middle of the pack. Also, when at even strength, Ryan Miller has a save percentage of .928, which is almost exactly what he posted during his Vezina year. What’s hurting him, and the team, are his numbers on special teams.

Miller’s save percentage when Buffalo is on the penalty kill is .860, and that has been a major problem for the Sabres, but it gets worse. When the Sabres have the man advantage, Miller has a save percentage of just .846, allowing four goals on 26 shots. Obviously, the defense has hung him out to dry on a few occasions, but the special teams need to be much better in order for this team to be successful.

When the Sabres made it to the Finals in 1999, they had a special teams coach, and it wasn’t a coincidence that their penalty kill was ranked 7th in the league. Now, they don’t have one, and both the power play and penalty kill are brutal. The Sabres can barely enter the zone with the man advantage and it takes way too much time to get set up. It’s unacceptable. If the Sabres had fixed these units, I bet they’d be in at least 7th or 8th right now.

Of course, there are other factors that lead to this disappointing season. Maybe the fact that they are 2-9-2 against the Southeast division is something the Sabres should improve on.

Buffalo has the tendency of playing to the level of their opponent. Only one team is in the playoffs from the Southeast, and the Sabres have three losses against Carolina and Washington, and two against Winnipeg.

Against the Northeast division, where the other four teams are in a playoff spot, the Sabres are 8-6-2. They’re capable of beating good teams, but it’s the games against some lowly opponents that are causing the problems.

That, mixed with special teams, are the biggest issues the Sabres have, and something they need to address over the offseason. With three more teams coming to the Sabres’ division next season, they better be prepared.

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