February 26, 2013; Tampa FL, USA; Buffalo Sabres center Cody Hodgson (19) is congratulated by left wing Thomas Vanek (26) and teammates after he scored a goal against the Tampa Bay Lightning during the first period at Tampa Times Forum. Mandatory Credit: Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

Power Rankings: Are The Buffalo Sabres Truly The Worst Team In The NHL?

Feb 23, 2013; Buffalo, NY, USA; Buffalo Sabres goalie Ryan Miller (30) is held back by linesman Tony Sericolo (84) during the game against the New York Islanders at the First Niagara Center. Islanders beat the Sabres 4-0. Mandatory Credit: Kevin Hoffman-USA TODAY Sports

For those of you paying attention, in an attempt to keep me an honest man, you might have noticed that I have yet to do my weekly Report Card for the Buffalo Sabres.  Winner winner, chicken – okay, I’ll stop.  In truth, I don’t find it fair to hand out grades for the Sabres’ effort last week.  For starters, I don’t delight in kicking a team when it’s down.  They had a terrible week on the ice, and I’m willing to let it go.  Second, Lindy Ruff was fired, which clearly had a huge impact on the team, so I’m willing to chalk up two of their  terrible games to negative emotions.

In short, I was ready to slap a huge Incomplete label on the Buffalo Sabres’ week five, and move on with my life . . . until I headed over to SI.com and checked out the latest power rankings.

Go ahead – check ‘em out.  The Sabres are dead last.  30th place.  Cellar dwellars.

Below the Columbus Blue Jackets.

I headed over to Fox Sports. Same result.  ESPN?  Same result.  bleacher report?  Yup.

Are the Buffalo Sabres really the worst team in the NHL?

There is where power rankings go wrong. Sure, the Sabres have been playing terribly of late, and going 0-3 last week doesn’t really help me make my case here (even though two of those games were closely contested).   I’m willing to forgive them for the first two games they played after Lindy Ruff got fired, but I’m a fan, so I can’t expect professional writers to be as forgiving.

But still – the worst team in the league?

For starters, the Sabres have one more win than both the Blue Jackets and the Florida Panthers.  A weak argument, I know, but there it is.  Second, the Sabres are 22nd in the NHL in goals scored, netting 2.45 goals a game, just slightly behind the Panther’s average of 2.47 goals per game.  Meanwhile, there are 8 teams with worse offenses, including – yep – the Columbus Blue Jackets, who only pot 2.15 a game.  How about goals against?   This is the glaring weakness of the Sabres, averaging 3.2 goals surrendered a game, 27th in the NHL.  Here they are worse than the Blue Jackets, but again, they are not worse than Calgary, the Islanders, or Florida.

Another area I was interested in was Goal-Games – how do the Sabres fare in games decided by one goal, games decided by two goals, etc.?  According to NHL.com, the Sabres have won 40% of their games that were decided by one goal, 20% of their games decided by two goals, and 40% of their games decided by three goals.  Compare that to Columbus’ win percentages of 25%, 25%, and 25%.  For one thing, these stats tell me that Buffalo has done slightly better in closely-contested games; the Sabres are 5-9-1 in games decided by two or less goals, while the Blue Jackets are 4-9-3.

Second, it tells me I’m looking at statistics WAY too much.

For me, ranking teams is part mathematics, part hockey intuition.  The mathematics tell me the Sabres are a slightly better team than the Columbus Blue Jackets, and no sports writer can really argue with those numbers.  Basically, then, it comes down to a judgment call – are the Sabres really playing the worst hockey in the NHL?  They have been playing poorly, for sure, but when I look at this team I do not see a team that is going to be fighting it out with the Blue Jackets for the worst record in the NHL.  Their goaltending is too good, for starters, and the law of averages tells me that the Sabres won’t keep losing all of the close games that Ryan Miller keeps them in.  Eventually, some breaks are going to come their way, like the break Cody Hodgson caught last night when he attempted to center the puck in front of Mathieu Garon.   The Sabres have too many guys who can go for 40-50+ points a year, as well, for them not to start picking up some wins in bunches.  Four guys on the Sabres last year scored over 40 points; three went for 50 or more; and two, Thomas Vanek (61) and Jason Pominville (73) broke 60.  The Blue Jackets, by comparison, had four players break 40 points last year, but only two who broke 50 – and one of them, Rick Nash, has since left.

Maybe I’m just guilty of being a homer, but I like to think I have been pretty fair and accurate in assessing the product I have seen on the ice so far this year.  Do I think the Sabres are a Stanley Cup contender?  Goodness no.  Do I think they can make the playoffs?  Not without a major trade, and a lot of help from some other teams.  But do I think they are the worst team in hockey?  No, sir, I do not.

I guess it’s time for the Buffalo Sabres to back me up, then, isn’t it?

What are your opinions on the latest round of “expert” Power Rankings?  Leave me your comments below, or follow me @theaveragedick so we can discuss!!!

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