Success is relative on a team projected to have the worst record in franchise history. Still, it’s impossible to deny that Ted Nolan has found a bit of it with this Sabres squad. The process moved slowly while Nolan evaluated the young talent on the team before re-stocking the team with veterans, allowing the prospects to return to their respective teams in what will amount to as a lost season for the organization. His system is falling into place now though and the Sabres are starting to become a tougher out.
Prior to the Bruins game Thursday, the Sabres had outshot or tied their last five opponents for the first time since December 2011. They didn’t outshoot the Bruins, but they did come away with a win. Mission accomplished either way then. Buffalo’s possession numbers have shot up dramatically in the 15 games Nolan has coached as the Sabres continue to trend toward respectability on a game by game basis. When Nolan started, the Sabres Corsi rating was an historically low 35.6%. Now it’s over 47%. Essentially, they’ve gone from being a team typically dominated in possession to a team playing even hockey. Not bad for just over a month’s work.
The offensive numbers haven’t been great, but that’s largely a part of the team’s best players having been traded off for future assets. For whatever Ron Rolston possessed as a teacher, he seemed to lack as a motivator. The Sabres were abysmal in the first period under Rolston. Lately, they’ve been much better. In that same five game span we considered that ended before the Bruins game, the Sabres outshot their opponents 57-40 in the first period. The shots and opportunities are increasing. If the Sabres can keep playing like they are, at least more pucks will find their way in. This has been the case for the last two games as both have seen the Sabres score four goals thanks to their bigger forwards rushing the net to make plays. The team has also seen the blue line jump back into the action after being invisible on offense for most of the year. Tyler Myers scored a key insurance goal against Boston that came in typical Myers fashion. He trailed the forward on an odd man rush, took the pass and rifled a wrist shot past the Boston goalie to eventually seal a Buffalo win. That’s a play he never makes in October.
It’s still early and the season is only half way over, but it’s fair to say that Ted Nolan has stabilized the roster some as the organization transitions into a new era in Sabres hockey. He’s making the young talent earn their way onto the roster and re-establishing the effort from many guys who had previously disappeared (hello, Drew Stafford) and proving that some guys are beyond repair (hello, Ville Leino). Either way, the Sabres aren’t playing like the train wreck they were in October and November. If they can keep this play up, they can at least restore some of the credibility the organization lost under Darcy Regier. There’s still a lot of work to be done in that department, but at least someone could get a head start.
Cory Buck is a Staff Writer at Sabre Noise. You can reach him at [email protected] or via Facebook/Twitter @TheBuckMopsHere.