The first month of NHL hockey is now officially all wrapped up and although the Sabres are not dominating their opposition on a level that is screaming “Stanley Cup Championship here we come!” the team has improved tremendously from last season. This is something that has not gone unnoticed by fans either, there is more of an overall sense that we can win any game we are heading into (except for maybe Montreal). More fans are looking forward to the next game, which is something that was not happening last season unless you were tuning in to make sure the Sabres didn’t screw up guaranteeing themselves the #2 pick in the draft.
We all remember how awful last season was, it was depressing on a level that had our fans cursing out our owner and GM and screaming about how they have ruined this team for the rest of our lives. There are a lot of fans out there that don’t truly understand the process of a true rebuild, especially Sabres fans. You can thank Darcy Reiger for that too for regularly telling us fans that we are rebuilding but actually maintaining the same core of players that will never get you to a Stanely cup. He moved around 3rd and 4th line players while promising it will lead to a deep playoff run, and because we still won some games fans believed. So when somebody comes in and actually tears apart something that is obviously not working, well fans kind of lost their shit and banished Pegula to hell for ruining this team. Worst part about watching that happen is knowing just how much he is doing the right thing but then seeing all the fans try to run him out of town for trying to get us a Stanley Cup. Its a process most fans don’t understand, a process they are never going to understand and a process that is absolutely necessary if you don’t have what it takes to make it anywhere close to a Stanely cup.
The fans who did not “embrace the tank” are the least knowledgeable fans in the league, they wanted one more win “right now” to ensure we don”t have 10 more wins next year. Rebuilding an NHL team properly is a process that requires as much losing as possible, and to fight your fellow fan because they are cheering for your future is something outspoken anti-tankers need to seriously re-evaluate. We went from being the absolute worst team in NHL to having an unbelievable talent pool of prospects who are guaranteed to make a huge impact in this league. To try and run Terry Pegula or Tim Murray out of town for that means that some people need to admit that they have no idea what they are talking about. Some people are just plain stupid and unfortunately for fans in Buffalo we have more than our fair share of complete idiots who just run their mouths nonstop (I am not at all saying that I am not one of them). My best friend was an anti-tanker, but I bet he couldn’t be happier to have Eichel on this team right now.
Lets get back to why I originally started writing this article though, I would like to take a few moments to take a look at how much this team has improved from last season. The Sabres have played 11 games in the month of October in each of the last two seasons, so that is going to give us a pretty even comparison for how they have played in the first month of the season the last 2 seasons.
With a record of 4-7 this season the Sabres have so far doubled their wins compared to October of last year where they went 2-8-1. In that span they were shut out 4 times last year, this year they haven’t been shut out once. Last season the Sabres only managed to score 13 goals in the month of October, this season they have doubled their goal production scoring 26 goals in that same 11 game span. We have actually scored more goals than 10 other teams and that right there is a huge positive indicator that we are headed for much better days as Sabres fans.
The improvement doesn’t stop there however, when you take a look at the numbers it seems we have improved in pretty much every category with the exception of hits. We are still out hitting our opposition but the numbers and margin have decreased slightly. Last season the Sabres racked up 297 hits compared to 231 from their opponents, this season the Sabres have delivered 263 hits to their opponents 255 hits. Hits are down slightly as a whole but the Sabres are still managing to keep a physical edge, barely.
Looking at shots taken though, holy shit this is where things really get interesting. Last season the Sabres were out-shot something terrible in the month of October only managing 233 shots while their opponents countered with 404 shots on net. This season however the Sabres have 372 SOG while only allowing 296, that is 139 more shots and 108 less shots allowed in just 11 games. That means the Sabres are holding onto the puck more and attacking the net in a manner we were not capable of doing last season.
Part of that has to do with faceoff wins, faceoff wins are huge in hockey and the improvement the Sabres have made in this category is really interesting. Last season the Sabres won 41% of their faceoffs winning only 258 while losing 366, this season however they have won 50.4% winning 347 faceoffs while losing 341. That is most certainly a huge improvement, stoppage in play is obviously up but a 10% increase in faceoff wins is not a true reflection of how much the Sabres have improved in this category. Last season the Sabres won more than 50% of their faceoffs in just 1 out of their 11 games in October, this season they won more than 50% of their faceoffs in 7 of their 11 games.
Lets talk about penalties, penalties are more often than not taken when the opposing team is working much harder and it results in a player having to stop them in a crude way. Last season the Sabres took 56 penalties for a total of 149 PIM in October, this season they have taken 32 penalties for a total of 83 PIM. That is quite a drastic cut in penalties and shows that the Sabres are not being outworked on the same scale as last year. Meaning the Sabres opponents are creating much less havoc against them, more shots and less penalties means that this team is a far more talented group capable of providing more offense and less defense.
One more thing I want to touch on before wrapping this up is the 3 stars of the game. If you are unaware, after each NHL game they award the 3 stars of them game based off of who makes the biggest impact. In a span of 11 games that means there is a total of 33 stars available for those games. Last season only 8 Sabres players received one of those stars in October. This season 15 Sabres players have received a star for their performance in a game.
When you take a look at the numbers this team so far is twice as good as it was last season, but I think it might actually be better than that. Hockey is a tricky sport, one that legitimately requires chemistry and teammates knowing one another and where they tend to go on the ice. We are just a month into the season and we could very well see these Sabres take off and explode onto the scene as a serious threat to other teams. Just wait until my man Bogosian comes back too, because when that happens he’s going to single handily change the game. You can absolutely quote me on that.
Hold your head up high Sabres fans, we are heading in the right direction and its not going to slow down anytime soon from here on out. To those of you that cursed out Pegula or Murray these past few years, please give up thinking you know anything about hockey because you are embarrassing yourself. While you watch Eichel score beautiful goals for us, please remember how you thought it was a good idea to remain a team in the middle of the pack. Im sure thats way better than building a serious contender, assholes.