Sabres Stats Lab: An analysis of results vs. playing time

December 14, 2017
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We’re a little over one-third of the way through the 2017-2018 NHL season, and the Sabres are still sitting in the basement of the NHL standings.

After Dan Bylsma’s frequent line juggling last season, many Sabres fans were hoping for a bit more stability in the lines under Phil Housley, but the scoring issues facing the Sabres have forced him to switch around the lines quite a bit as well. This has led to many opinions on various players and how much playing time they should be getting, but let’s see what the numbers have to say.

Players with at least ten games played with the Sabres are used for this 5v5 analysis. Matt Moulson was not considered due to his loan to the L.A. Kings’ AHL affiliate.

Offense

Despite a solid last few games, which included a four-goal performance against Colorado, the Sabres still rank last in the NHL with an average of 2.16 goals per game. Shown below is a plot of Sabres forwards 5v5 points-per-60 minutes vs. their share of ice time:



The bottom left and top right quadrants of the plot are unproductive and productive players, respectively. The top left and bottom right quadrants are potential underplayed and overplayed players, respectively.

The results from this plot aren’t that surprising. The Sabres have a clear group of top and bottom players (with Okposo recently sneaking into the top group over the last few games). However, Sam Reinhart has found himself in the theoretical overplayed zone and hasn’t lived up to expectations. Pouliot is the only player in the theoretical underplayed zone, so I can see him getting more time moving forward, and I believe Housley’s more recent line combinations have been reflective of this.

Worth noting, I ran the same analysis with a lower limit of five games played instead of ten, and Jacob Josefson along with Justin Bailey showed up in the top left quadrant, pushing Pouliot into the top right quadrant. Although that was too small of a sample size for me to include in the results, it was an interesting observation. This will definitely be a plot to keep an eye on moving forward.

Defense

Let’s now take a look at our defenders. Corsi is an excellent metric for overall defensive ability, as it is a proxy for possession. Plotted below are the CF% (Corsi For Percent) numbers vs. their share of ice time:



Beaulieu quickly jumps out as a potential underplayed player. Tennyson is also in that quadrant, but that alone should suggest that there is more to consider. Let’s also look at xG +/-, which is defined as the expected plus/minus for a player.



This plot truly shows Ristolainen’s importance to the Sabres. His point being in the top right corner shows that he plays the most minutes for the team and still maintains the one of the highest expected plus/minus values. Tennyson has dropped into the unproductive quadrant which is dominated by Antipin. McCabe is in a worrying location, as he barely squeaked into the productive zone in terms of Corsi, but has a very poor location in xG +/-. Meanwhile, Beaulieu remains in the underplayed quadrant. Gorges has a strong presence in the underplayed quadrant as well, but his poor Corsi numbers have to be considered.

When looking at both of these two plots together, it’s apparent Ristolainen and Scandella have cemented themselves as the top pair. The Sabres could stand to give Beaulieu a crack at more ice time, perhaps at the expense of McCabe if necessary. That being said, McCabe is the only Sabres defender with a goal, and that has to be worth something.

When I lowered the games played threshold to a minimum of five, Fedun (7 GP) appeared in the top left corner of both plots. Again, it’s a bit small of a sample size to include in the results, but I think it’s definitely worth keeping a close eye on Fedun when he returns from injury.

Overall

All things considered, it’s apparent that the Sabres are desperate for Reinhart to produce more. He’s getting more than a fair share of ice time, but it’s just not happening at this point. The top D-pair is solid, but there are inconsistencies beyond them. I think it will be very interesting to look at updated versions of these charts after a few weeks when more players return from injury, get a call up, etc., and there are more points on the plot. For now, short of Jason Botterill making a trade or two, the Sabres will just have to keep rolling with what they have.

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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