Breaking down Buffalo’s 4-0 loss to the Predators

March 20, 2018

It was David vs. Goliath on Monday night as the Buffalo Sabres hosted the red hot Nashville Predators, who had collected points in 14 straight games coming into the matchup. Linus Ullmark got the start in goal after sitting for the last two since his callup. The Predators countered with Pekka Rinne, who was aiming for his third straight 40-win season.

Despite being the heavy underdogs, the Sabres had a pretty good opening period against the Predators. No goals were scored but the Sabres generated speed through the neutral zone against a really good team and wound up creating a few good chances.

The talent gap eventually caught up to them, however, as 12:29 into the second period, Mike Fisher tips home a point shot from Mikko Salomaki to give the Predators the 1-0 lead.

Not much Ullmark could do on this goal as the Predators established themselves in the offensive zone and got bodies to the front of the net. The play started deep in the Sabres end when rookie defenseman Brendan Guhle went to retrieve the dump in.

Guhle has the puck here and he’s definitely got the wheels to skate this around behind the net. Instead, he opts to turn around, perhaps in an attempt to find a teammate for the pass.

I suppose it’s possible he wanted to draw the Predators forward into a tie up and have Larsson pick up the puck, but it’s still probably not the optimal play here. I have no doubt he’ll get better at these kinds of defensive decisions as these are simply the growing pains associated with being a rookie defenseman.

About five minutes later, the Predators would add to their lead as the Sabres got caught up ice and gave up a 3-on-1 opportunity the other way. Viktor Arvidsson takes the initial shot and the rebound is found by Filip Forsberg, who finds Ryan Johansen for the wide open tap-in.

Ullmark’s rebound control was a key issue for him in years past and it showed up again tonight. This shot handcuffs him a little but it’s one that Ullmark would want to hold on to. Casey Nelson is just a split second slower than Forsberg to the rebound on this goal. His positioning is fine but Forsberg’s stick has to be tied up here.

The Predators would add two more goals late in the third, the first coming with just under four minutes left. Arvidsson patiently draws Ullmark out of the crease and his shot rebounds straight out to Forsberg who gets a yawning cage to shoot at.

This is definitely one Ullmark will want to forget. He bites big time on Arvidsson’s delay and in doing so allows the rebound to go to a scorer with nothing but net to shoot at. Jack Eichel is culpable here as well; that’s another instance where the guy in front has to have his stick tied up.

The Predators fourth goal came around the time where everyone including the Sabres had checked out of this game. Ryan Hartman catches the Sabres napping at their own blue line, takes the pass, gets to the circle and rips one past Ullmark to put the icing on the cake.

The score line may have been ugly but in reality this was probably one of the better efforts from the Sabres all year, especially when you factor in the caliber of their opponent. Nashville regularly torches teams in terms of shot share/possession numbers but on this night the Sabres kept up with them, finishing with just one less shot attempt at 5v5, finally tally 57-58.

The expected goals for numbers at 5v5 were 2.7 to 1.64 in favor of Nashville, which lines up with the eye test. The second and third goal skew this number for Nashville as both are goals that Ullmark at the very least should have handled a bit better.

The Sabres had an XG of 1.64 but failed to score. As mentioned, I don’t think the Sabres really played poorly and this game probably should have been a lot closer. There were chances that they were a bit unlucky on (like Justin Bailey’s near miss or Eichel’s shot off the post) but 1.64 is still disappointing overall when you put up decent shot share numbers.


Kyle Turris’ line really took it to the Sabres young guns line of Justin Bailey, Evan Rodrigues and Nicholas Baptiste, especially when they were on with Roman Josi. Other than that, though, the Sabres matched up well with the Predators. Ryan O’Reilly’s line had a good night as he, Sam Reinhart and Scott Wilson led all Sabres skaters in CF% (60, 58 and 57 respectively).

Brendan Guhle had a bit of a Jekyll and Hyde night as he posted a respectable CF% of 49 but was on the ice for three goals against, though he did post the highest expected goals for of any Sabres skater and a positive XG differential (expected goals for minus expected goals against) of 0.07. It doesn’t sound all that impressive at first, but Rasmus Ristolainen and Marco Scandella finished with XG differentials of -0.8 and -0.86.

Other Notes:

Guhle looking like Buffalo’s best defenseman despite not being at his best is both exciting and terrifying. He’s creating chances and definitely pushing the play with his passing and skating ability but could use some work in his own end (nothing new for a rookie). Over the last few weeks, he and Nelson have become the defensive pair everyone wants to watch. However exciting this may be, it should have never been a thing in the first place. Two rookies stealing the show despite not playing at their best at times shows exactly how much more work needs to be done in repairing this defense core and just how bad it was before. It’s not that Ristolainen and Scandella are bad hockey players but watching Nelson and Guhle, you can see which pair is clearly better built for this era. I’ve listened to at least four different away broadcasts comment on Scandella’s “old school” wind up for a slap shot. If the away broadcast’s main talking point on your second best blueliner is his archaic wind up, you’ve got a major problem.

The Baptiste-Rodrigues-Bailey line may not have had a great night overall but I’d like to see Housley stick with this for a few more games. Just as the blue line is a bit outdated, so too is the bottom six. These days most teams run a top nine of sorts, where the third line is more of a tertiary scoring line than a checking line. I’m still not entirely sure on Baptiste or Bailey’s ceiling at the NHL level but the line itself is a nice blend of speed, skill and a bit of size. It certainly beats having them stuck with much slower fourth liners.

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.

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Loved the way Reinhart played last night. Really think it’s starting to click for him. Not playing with Jack may have been the best thing for him over the past 15 games.

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