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Hockey Analytics

Sabres Stars at Opposite Ends of Productivity

by Gus Katsaros
Updated On: January 9, 2020, 1:12 am ET

Moneypuck.com has the Buffalo Sabres with a 14.1% chance of making the postseason, tied with the Los Angeles Kings (who take on the Dallas Stars tonight in the second game of a double header on NHL on NBC – click on the NBCSN link below to stream the game) and slightly ahead of the disappointing San Jose Sharks.

WED

8-Jan

6:30 PM

10:00 PM

NHL

Capitals vs. Flyers

NBCSN

WED

8-Jan

10:00 PM

1:00 AM

NHL

Stars vs. Kings

NBCSN

 

Hockeyviz.com gives the Sabres a 15% chance of making the postseason, similarly toMoneypuck.com. Both statistics producers don’t give Buffalo much of a chance, while we are just passed the midway point of the NHL season.

 

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Sitting with 45 points in 43 games, and fourth in the division, this wasn’t the envisioned outcome for 2019-20 when the club hired head coach, Ralph Krueger, fresh off the club’s eighth consecutive season missing the playoffs in 2018-19. They looked like they would be playoff contenders by the end of November during the 2018-19 season, but that contention eroded over a disappointing second half.

Over the course of 10 games in November last season, the Buffalo Sabres looked like giant slayers. Building off a hot start (7-3-2) they reeled off 10 wins, scoring 33 goals and allowing 24 for an all-situation +9 goals differential. That 10-game swing included three shootout wins, and they would win twice in a shootout the rest of the 2018-19 season, while losing eight games in extra time or to a shootout. The wheels fell off with a November 30th loss that would send the Sabres reeling into a playoff stretch run, eventually missing the postseason.

Let’s take a closer look at their stars, Jeff Skinner and Jack Eichel.

 

Jeff Skinner

Jeff Skinner had an incredible 2018-19 season based on a hot start and would score four goals during that 10-game span, adding another two power play markers. He scored two more with the man advantage the rest of the season, the last goal coming on Feb 15. To date in 2019-20, Skinner hasn’t scored on the power play. He parlayed the successful season into an 8-yr, $72 million extension, however, and the struggle this season has been real.

With last season in the rearview, 2019-20 hasn’t been as generous to the former Carolina Hurricanes first round selection (2010 – 7th overall). Aside from an early season eight game stretch with six goals (8-6-2-8) following a delayed season debut due to an upper body injury, scoring hasn’t been as abundant or frequent. He doesn’t play with Jack Eichel and didn’t partake in the captain’s league leading 17-game point streak. During that span, he scored three goals (17-3-3-6). He’s missed the last two games with an upper body injury and sits with one lone assist in the previous nine games – with declining shot metrics. The immediate future is somewhat murky.

Unlike Eichel’s stable linemates, Skinner has been shuffled around different combos (data courtesy of MoneyPuck.com), playing most often with Marcus Johansson and Vladimir Sobotka, sporting a staggering 29.6% shooting percentage. The first chart below is the difference between expected goals and goals scored for each of the Sabres lines Skinner played with so far in 2019-20. He’s played 22 minutes on a line with Jack Eichel.

Jeff Skinner 2019-20 Lines

 

Based on ice time, these four lines were where Skinner spent most of the season, with a very small portion played with Eichel and Sam Reinhart. The best success has been a 66.7% shooting percentage on a line with Connor Sheary and Jacob Larsson, while sporting a moderate 26% shooting percentage with his most frequent linemates.

Jeff Skinner 2019-20 Lines Shooting Percentage

Jack Eichel

Jack Eichel contributed eight points during the 10-game win streak in 2018-19, all assists, five being primary assists. He would add another two power play assists. Eichel was a driving factor in the Sabres win streak, as expected from such a high impact player.

This season, the Sabres aren’t even in the playoff race without their stars performing at such a high level, and even that may not be enough to stave off playoff elimination.

Highlighted by a 17-game point streak that began exactly in the second quarter, the breakdown for context by Dimitri Filipovic of the PDOcast is eye-popping.

 

Jack Eichel's 17 game point streak:

•16 goals
•15 assists
•67 shots on goal
•101 shot attempts
•With him on ice Sabres up 24-10 at 5v5, 40-16 in all situations
•Without him on ice Sabres down 23-15 at 5v5, 39-16 in all situations
•Sabres have won 7 of those 17 games.

— Dimitri Filipovic (@DimFilipovic) December 18, 2019

 

Buffalo has won seven games, and earned 18 points. Eichel also fired five or more shots on goal in eight of those 17 games. It took an upper body injury to miss out on game 18, eventually capping the streak. The injury has taken its toll as well. The Sabres captain has scored once and added three points in the five games since returning from the one game injury absence.

He failed to record a 5v5 point in six games throughout the streak, but when he did record a point, it usually consisted of a goal or primary assist. He put up 14 of 17 points as primary – a goal or primary assist.

If the Sabres are going to make a run for a playoff spot, they need more from their depth players, since the stars are such a polar dichotomy.

 

Honorable Mentions and Injuries

Rookie sensation, Victor Olofsson will be lost for 5-6 weeks courtesy of a lower body injury suffered in the 3-2 win over the Edmonton Oilers. For all the point generation, at 5v5, the talented rookie is only earning points on 55.17% of goals scored with him on the ice. He’s scoring just slightly better than his expected goals, all while skating with Eichel most. Still, his absence is a blow to the Sabres offense.

Ranked second overall with 35 points behind Eichel, he’s chased by Sam Reinhart, who is on pace for 65 points, that would see him flirt with career bests. Reinhart has already passed his pre-2018-19 bests at 5v5 and making a similar impact to last season, however, he’s sporting a career high 16.9% individual shooting percentage, which adversely affects shot metrics (as shooting percentage increases, less shots are required for scoring, and the metrics pace is affected). He’s lagging in shots/60 and high danger chances. While setting up career high in goals/60 and effectively maintaining a high level of primary assists – according to his career average. The good news for Reinhart is that he’s been healthy for his career – and with the Sabres injury trouble lately, that’s good news.

Gus Katsaros
Gus Katsaros is the Pro Scouting Coordinator with McKeen’s Hockey, publishers of industry leading scouting and fantasy guide, the McKeen’s Annual Hockey Pool Yearbook. He also contributes to popular blog MapleLeafsHotStove.com ... he can be followed on Twitter @KatsHockey