Sabres plagued by secondary scoring drought

November 22, 2017

Goals sure have been hard to come by for the Sabres over the last few years.

After the tank seasons, Buffalo saw a jump in scoring that took them from averaging less than two goals per game to just under 2.5. However, that’s still short of the league average, which hovers around 2.85 from year to year. Last season, Buffalo’s 2.45 goals for per game put them 25th out of 30 teams.

So, even with additions like Jack Eichel, Evander Kane, etc., the Sabres are still well behind in scoring. The Sabres continue to struggle—ranking last in the league with an average of 2.3 goals for per game.

Despite the overall scoring issues, the Sabres’ top players have been performing well, with five on pace for 20 or more goals in Kane (12), Ryan O’Reilly (7), Jason Pominville (6), Benoit Pouliot (6) and Eichel (5).

Secondary scoring has become a buzzword in the new NHL. Teams these days are expected to have a top nine, not a top six, when it comes to forward lines. The Sabres haven’t caught on. In fact, if “secondary scoring” is defined as percentage of goals from the non-top-five goal scorers, Buffalo is currently dead last at 23.91% in a league that averages 41%. Here’s a quick look at the top five and bottom five teams:

Percentage of goals from players not in top five of team goal-scoring

1. Columbus – 52.63
2. Anaheim – 50.00
3. New Jersey – 49.18
4. Detroit – 45.90
5. Vegas – 45.59
… …
27. Calgary – 35.71
28. Los Angeles – 35.00
29. Vancouver 33.33
30. Philadelphia 32.14
31. Buffalo 23.91

Another type of secondary scoring is scoring by defensemen. The Sabres have yet to get a goal from a defenseman and accordingly are the worst in the league from the blue line. Here’s the top/bottom five in this category:

Percentage of goals from defensemen

1. St. Louis – 30.88
2. Nashville – 28.07
3. Ottawa – 24.14
4. Anaheim – 24.07
5. Columbus – 22.81
… …
27. Vegas – 8.82
28. San Jose – 6.82
29. Vancouver – 5.88
30. Detroit – 4.92
31. Buffalo – 0.00

Beyond their top five forwards, Buffalo is hardly seeing any scoring. A big culprit here is questionable scouting and drafting that has resulted in a depleted bottom six and defense corps.

Is there an ideal range of these scoring distributions that’s predictive of team success? Not really. There isn’t a target distribution for who scores all the goals. That being said, the two addressed above are still useful—just more so as diagnostics—since the overall number of goals scored by the team carries much more importance.

For example, we can look at Buffalo’s distributions this year so far—lowest secondary scoring and defensive scoring (non-existent) — and note that their top guys are doing well, but that’s really all they’ve got. Or we could look at a team like Arizona (current secondary scoring distribution of 43.40% [9th] and current defensive scoring distribution of 13.21% [19th]) and note that their offensive output has been spread out, but there’s just not enough overall given that they rank 29th out of 31 teams with 2.45 goals for per game.

It’s pretty clear the Sabres aren’t getting a needed boost from players beyond their big-name forwards. Some poor drafts have plenty to do with it. For Buffalo’s sake, hopefully the newly hired head of amateur scouting (Ryan Jankowski) will help turn this issue around over the next few years.

About Lee Drinkwater

Lee Drinkwater is a University of Illinois at Urbana–Champaign graduate who is well versed at applying statistical analysis to hockey. Although he is based in Chicago, he is a lifelong Sabres fan.

Browse more articles by Lee Drinkwater.

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