Know Your Opponent: The Buffalo Sabres

Tom Szczerbowski

The Buffalo Sabres are last in the Northeast Division, but do they belong there? Find out inside.

The Buffalo Sabres have been in the unenviable position last year of being just outside the playoffs, neither playing extra games nor drafting particularly high. They may have gotten lucky there though, picking up potentially lottery pick talent in Mikhail Grigorenko. The Sabres in the past two off-seasons have torn down their previous group of centers with Tim Connolly not retained and Derek Roy traded. The net result is that the Sabres are forced to use unproven talent down the middle

Forwards:

Vanek-Hodgson-Pominville

Foligno-Ennis-Stafford

Hecht-Girgorenko-Ott

Gerbe-Ellis-Scott

Buffalo has some lions on the wing, but their centermen are more like house cats. Ennis is the most proven quantity down the middle and he has never been more than a decent 2nd line guy. Cody Hodgson is given Derek Roy's old job between Vanek and Pominville, two very accomplished scoring wingers. They've been solid at generating offense for the Sabres in scoring situations and sit with 10+ corsi per 60, but goaltending has dropped them towards being even on goals scored (6/6). Foligno-Ennis-Stafford was a decent line for Buffalo last season and continues to do fairly well.

The difficulty starts for Buffalo when their bottom six is on the ice. Both Grigorenko and Gerbe are getting killed on possession.

As it stands, none of Buffalo's forwards are positive on goals 5 on 5.

Defense:

Sekera-Leopold

Myers-Reghr

Ehrhoff-Sulzer

With apologies to those that love Tyler Myers, none of these guys are clear cut 2-way stud defensemen. That said, all of them are legit NHL defensemen. So far Ehrhoff and Sulzer are off to a brilliant starts while the other two pairings have been weak. But overall I'd expect them to level out as 3 relatively balanced pairings.

Power Play

Vanek-Hodgson-Pominville

Ehrhoff-Myers

Stafford-Ennis-Foligno

Ehrhoff-Leopold

The top unit so far has been pretty deadly, ~115 corsi/60 is ridiculous and they seem to have scored 4 goals together (Ott occasionally takes faceoffs for Hodgson).

Penalty Kill

Hecht-Kaleta

Hodgson-Pominville

Myers-Reghr

Leopold-Ehrhoff

As the PP is deadly, the PK is unthreatening. None of their units are good at controlling the puck and they are collectively letting Miller do all the work.

Matchup Game:

Buffalo seems to be a top-heavy forward group that is week down the middle. Likely Plekanec backed by one of Subban or Markov will be sent to neutralize the Hodgson line and keep Vanek from running up another multi-point game. The other top defenseman can be used to support the offense or contain Ennis's second unit.

Global Performance:

Last year Buffalo was 48.2% on Fenwick Close with a proven top six center and this year they are 48.8% without him. In both instances they are negative on possession and will likely continue to be this way this season. Montreal should have a clear advantage at 5 on 5, given how well the team has done over 6 games. Montreal's special teams are likely stronger as well, given that Buffalo's recent tendancy has been towards failure

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