Breaking down Buffalo’s big 5-0 win in Edmonton

January 24, 2018
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The Buffalo Sabres finished the second half of their Alberta back-to-back with a matchup against the Edmonton Oilers. Fresh off an overtime win against the Calgary Flames, the Sabres started pretty strong in this one getting some decent zone time but not much in the way of dangerous scoring chances. Then, with five minutes to go in the first, the Sabres converted on a power play chance courtesy of a Sam Reinhart deflection.

Talk about a game of inches; this one just barely gets across the goal line. The power play continues to produce thanks to much improved puck movement. Although Jack Eichel is the star on the first unit, the execution in the zone is all Rasmus Ristolainen. He’s the guy creating all the movement and it’s gotten markedly better. Penalty killing units are having a tough time staying in position as of late versus the top power play unit for the Sabres, a trend Phil Housley hopes will continue.

The strong start would continue in the second period as just a minute in some strong forechecking by Reinhart causes an errant pass by the Oilers in their own end. The puck would find its way to Scott Wilson, whose shot would rebound perfectly to a poorly marked Ryan O’Reilly giving the Sabres a 2-0 lead.

This is great work from the O’Reilly line and more importantly it’s another strong start to the period. Good pressure forces a turnover and O’Reilly gets the tally thanks in part to some weak defending by Oilers young star Jesse Puljujarvi.

About seven and a half minutes through the second the flood gates opened up. A poorly timed pinch by Adam Larsson gives Zemgus Girgensons a clear path for a two-on-one. He feeds Kyle Okposo who gives it right back, and the puck goes off Girgensons’ skate right into the net giving the Sabres a 3-0 lead.

That’s as bad a pinch as you’ll see. Okposo’s pass is off the mark but the sheer power of it is enough to deflect off Girgensons’ skate (legally) and into the net. Just a few minutes later, the Sabres would convert on another power play opportunity, this time off the stick of Eichel.

The extraordinary puck movement continues for the Sabres top unit. This is a lost puck until O’Reilly hunts it down and then it’s quick work by Okposo and Ristolainen to set up Eichel for a shooting opportunity. Eichel buries his 20th goal of the season and the Sabres go up 4-0.

The scorching hot power play wasn’t done. Yet another pretty passing play, this time with Eichel and Reinhart setting up O’Reilly for the quick one timer.

This is a thing of beauty. The passing on the power play has improved ten fold and the opponent’s top penalty killing units are becoming mesmerized. Tape-to-tape passing from the two second overall picks sets up O’Reilly for his second of the night and 13th of the year to make it 5-0 Buffalo. Through two periods the Sabres power play had three opportunities, scoring three goals on three shots. Absolute machine-like efficiency.

The third period wound up being filler hockey as the Oilers were just looking to play for pride and have the game end as quickly as possible. Although the bulk of their scoring came on the power play, this was overall a very good game for Buffalo. They had just come off a game that went to overtime last night and, instead of starting flat, they came out with a pep in their step.

The final possession/shot share numbers overwhelmingly favored the Oilers (60.78% CF to 39.22% CF) but most of this can be explained by a third period in which the Sabres essentially took a nap. Normally not ideal but hard to argue against when you lead 5-0.  The Oilers also generated more scoring chances 5-on-5 with an expected goals for total of 1.99 to Buffalo’s 1.52. Again, normally not ideal but this game was decided by special teams, where the Sabres were terrific.

 

 

It’s hard to find things to criticize in a huge win like this one, but a growing concern has to be the Sabres top pair matching up against the opponent’s top lines. Last night they were fortunate to have the power play clicking and the Oilers completely demoralized, but even then the Scandella-Ristolainen pairing got absolutely caved in by McDavid’s line.

Other notes:

It’s about forty games too late, but the supporting cast around Eichel is starting to show up and produce. O’Reilly now has eight points in his last seven games. Reinhart’s three point night gives him six in his last four. Okposo’s two point night gives him nine points in his last six games, during which he’s recorded four multi-point games. It remains to be seen if these streaks are just a blip on the radar or a return to normalcy for three important forwards on this roster.

Evander Kane has gone from cold to a block of ice. He has one point in his last eight games and just two goals in the last seventeen. The pressure is on for general manager Jason Botterill to get a mammoth return, especially after the report about his asking price going up. Hopefully for the Sabres, demand remains high but you have to wonder if the sell high date has passed on the Sabres top trade deadline asset.

Victor Antipin drew back into the lineup after being out for a while with an illness. The rookie did well in the limited ice time he saw, but between the illness and the healthy scratches his future with the organization is unclear. It’s not inconceivable to think that he’s upset with his lack of playing time and it wouldn’t shock me at all if he was included as a sweetener in a larger deal at the deadline.

Casey Nelson has been a pleasant surprise since his call up. He had a tough first game but since then he’s settled in and provided some positive play at both ends of the ice. He finished last night’s game with a CF of 53.28%, tops among Sabres defensemen. Like Antipin, it’s hard to pinpoint what kind of future Nelson has with organization but his most recent stint (coupled with a scary lack of blue line depth) may make Nelson a contender for the third pair at next year’s training camp.

I mentioned a few games ago that Reinhart’s possession numbers, after taking a slight dip, were starting to trend upwards and that it was possibly an indication of increased scoring. He led all Sabres skaters last night with a CF of 58.42% without receiving sheltered zone starts. With rumors swirling about Reinhart’s availability on the trade market, this will prove to be the most important stretch of hockey in Reinhart’s career. If he can bring some consistent production and maintain his high possession numbers, it may be enough to convince Sabres management to keep him long term.

Michael Ghofrani
About Michael Ghofrani

Michael Ghofrani has been working on finding hockey statistics that can break down and explain certain game events. He's also a Sabres follower from Toronto doing his best to fend off Leafs Nation.

Browse more articles by Michael Ghofrani.

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