Buffalo Sabres: Breaking down Jeff Skinner’s strong start

Jeff Skinner is off to a strong start in his first year with the Buffalo Sabres, let’s break down his numbers through the first 9 games.

The Buffalo Sabres made headlines on a quiet Thursday night  in August when they acquired Jeff Skinner from the Carolina Hurricanes for prospect Cliff Pu and a few draft picks.

Skinner’s production improved after head coach Phil Housley shuffled the lines and moved Skinner on to a line with Casey Mittelstadt and Tage Thompson. The change was made after the Sabres’ third game against the Vegas Golden Knights. Although the Sabres won the game 4-2, Skinner was held shotless in over 18 minutes of ice time. To put that in perspective, Skinner only failed to register a shot on goal once last season.

Since the change, Skinner has points in 4 of his last 6 games, including 5 goals. Skinner also put up his first hat trick as a Buffalo Sabre, his first hat trick since December 2015. The 5 goals are leading the team and have Skinner just outside the top 10 in the league.

All 5 of Jeff Skinner’s goals are even strength goals, good for 6th in the league. Despite his even strength success, he has yet to break into the top power play unit. Although the power play went through an abysmal period, the club has rebounded with 2 power play goals in the last game against the Anaheim Ducks.

The most evident area where you can see Jeff Skinner’s early success is in the non-traditional stats. According to evolving-hockey.com, Jeff Skinner is leading the NHL in goals above replacement (GAR). Here is an in-depth description of GAR however simply put, it is a statistic that takes into 6 different areas of the game and provides a representation of a player’s value. Skinner’s GAR is not only leading the league but would be good for 5th on the Sabres last season.

Jeff Skinner has also (literally) been put in position to rack up points. Skinner is leading the team in offensive zone starts and has yet to see the ice on the penalty kill.

The influx of offense from Jeff Skinner is just what the Buffalo Sabres needed. The Sabres were the only team in the league to not score 200 goals last season and even with Skinner’s 5 goals the team is still on pace to only score 200 goals this year.

Jeff Skinner’s production has led to a drastic improvement in the Sabres’ PDO (shooting percentage plus save percentage at even strength). Last year the Buffalo Sabres were last in the NHL with a PDO of 98 whereas they are at 100.2 through 9 games.

The prognosticators, including hockeyviz and The Athletic, have the Sabres playoff chances slowly improving compared to the dismal predictions made about the Sabres in the offseason.

Although you cannot make the playoffs in October you can surely be eliminated from playoff contention (see the Buffalo Sabres’ last 6 seasons). Regardless of how early in the season it may be, the Sabres are currently in a playoff spot and Jeff Skinner’s offensive production is a big reason why.