The Buffalo Sabres have solved, at least on paper, many issues that plagued them during the 2022-23 season, but there is still one major weakness.
Buffalo Sabres general manager Kevyn Adams realized his team got pushed around a lot at around midseason last year, necessitating trades for blueliner Riley Stillman and forward Jordan Greenway. It wasn’t enough, and Adams brought in Erik Johnson and Connor Clifton to further remedy the issue.
Buffalo’s penalty kill also suffered last season, though it started making strides late. They also could bolster it with Clifton, who recorded nearly 103 minutes on the Boston Bruins shorthanded unit in 2022-23. And considering Boston’s 93.3% on-ice save percentage, you can argue that he was one of a few reasons why the Bruins PK unit was so successful. Johnson was also on the PK unit, logging 128.2 total minutes with the Colorado Avalanche.
This isn’t to say the Sabres will be overtly more physical this season or that their PK unit won’t see its fair share of woes. But you can expect improvement in both avenues. However, Adams has yet to resolve one final issue that has been a problem for the Blue and Gold over the past few seasons: winning faceoffs.
Buffalo Sabres still don’t have a forward capable of winning consistent faceoffs
Dylan Cozens logged a team-best 48.3% faceoff win percentage (FOW) in 2022-23 among players who took at least 100 of them. If the Sabres want to consistently win close games against playoff-caliber teams throughout the year, then someone needs to step up and prove they can consistently provide good returns in the category.
At this point, the pre-camp roster is basically set, even if Adams can realistically add another forward to the group if he deems it necessary. But in all likelihood, the Sabres will try to address their faceoff woes from within the organization, whether it’s Cozens who steps up or someone else.
If Buffalo can start winning more in the category, it could help them break open games by potentially giving them more chances to score in the offensive zone. Last season, we saw the Sabres blow two-goal leads seemingly every other time they held them, and that must be minimized this season.
This isn’t to say that winning consistent faceoffs will remedy this issue. But I am saying that by doing so, the Buffalo Sabres are increasing the odds that they can and will score that one goal that will make it difficult for opponents to come back from.
Source: Sabres Mailbag: Is Connor Clifton the right fit for Owen Power? by Lance Lysowski, Buffalo News
(Statistics provided by Hockey-Reference)