Some of the Buffalo Sabres 5-on-5 game has been astonishingly brilliant at midseason

It would be an understatement to claim the 2023-24 Buffalo Sabres are a strange hockey team, but that’s been the case so far this season.
Jan 13, 2024; Buffalo, New York, USA;  Buffalo Sabres left wing Jordan Greenway (12) looks to defend
Jan 13, 2024; Buffalo, New York, USA; Buffalo Sabres left wing Jordan Greenway (12) looks to defend / Timothy T. Ludwig-USA TODAY Sports

The 2023-24 Buffalo Sabres may be the strangest team in the NHL this year, playing some of their best hockey against top teams. It happened again in yesterday’s loss to the Vancouver Canucks as, despite the shutout, Buffalo allowed just one goal vs. a team most of the league can’t figure out. 

The Sabres play vs. the NHL’s best is just one oddity of this strange 2033-24 campaign, as they currently boast a record and points total that is nowhere near the class of the league However, if you were to take 5-on-5 analytics for each of 32 teams and, without knowing to whom they belonged, you would never guess the Sabres are 18-21-4 at the moment and one of the worst teams in the East. 

For example, their 8.4 shooting percentage is higher than the league average of 8.1 percent, despite this team putting up some of their worst offensive performances against the NHL’s mid-to-bottom tier goaltenders. Their goaltending is lower than the NHL average, sitting at a 0.908 save percentage compared to 0.919 everywhere else, but you can’t say the same for their overall Corsi For vs. Corsi Against, both of which sit above-average.

Through 43 games, the Sabres possess a Corsi For of 1,980 and a Corsi Against of 1,873 while the rest of the league owns a 1,920 CF and 1,882 CA. Overall games in hand are a difference-maker in some cases, but their overall CF% is still 51.4, implying they control the puck more often than their opponents.

Buffalo Sabres 5-on-5 analytics add to this team’s strangeness

Their expected goals for of 88.3 is 2.9 higher than the NHL, while their aGF of 95 is currently 10 above - with the latter implying that despite the games in hand, they would still hover around the average mark. You can’t say the same for their xGA and aGA which are roughly nine and 10 points worse than the NHL’s average, and the same goes for scoring chances for, high-danger chances, and conversions. 

But funnily enough, the Sabres high-danger chances for of 329 are just four under the NHL average of 333, and their goals for are only three under the league average of 35. Games in hand make a difference here, but this still puts their 8.9 percent conversion rate at just 0.6 percentage points below the NHL average, which isn’t awful. 

As for high-danger chances allowed, the Blue and Gold have given up quite a few of them, 60 above the league average, and that needs to change. But, they have allowed 45, or 10.3 percent of them, which is just 0.7 percentage points worse than the average of 9.6. 

As you can see from these above numbers, despite their awful record and points total, the Buffalo Sabres look like a middle-of-the-pack team as far as their 5-on-5 analytics go. It does imply that they have struggled on special teams, both on the power play and penalty kill, and that ineptitude has cost them numerous games this season with the most notorious example coming vs. the Boston Bruins earlier this season

However, they also imply that, if the Blue and Gold can fix their special teams woes, and the penalty kill at least seems to be heading in that direction, then we will see a better team overall. But until that occurs, the Sabres will be that team with halfway decent 5-on-5 analytics that possesses a poor record. 


(Information provided by Hockey-Reference)