Fixing the Buffalo Sabres: Playing better defense in their own zone from here on out

Clearly, the Buffalo Sabres have yet to find a sound rhythm offensively this season, but their defensive game continues to be a major issue.

Dec 27, 2023; Buffalo, New York, USA;  Buffalo Sabres defenseman Owen Power (25) waits for the
Dec 27, 2023; Buffalo, New York, USA; Buffalo Sabres defenseman Owen Power (25) waits for the / Timothy T. Ludwig-USA TODAY Sports

Regardless of the sport, and regardless of the level of sport, the best schemes in each, whether it’s hockey or football, tend to be the simplest. And you can’t get much simpler than Buffalo Sabres head coach Don Granato’s approach, which Lance Lysowski of Buffalo News describes as:

"“They play a simple zone scheme in which each player in 5-on-5 situations is responsible for a quadrant around their net. It is much easier to succeed with a system such as that than a man-to-man scheme such as the one run by Phil Housley during his time as Buffalo’s coach.”"

Lance Lysowski

Source: Observations: Ineffective special teams the difference in Sabres’ loss to Bruins

Honestly, for a young hockey team Granato is in charge of developing, he couldn’t have come up with a better scheme to run. Each player takes over a zone, and they only need to worry about opponents and the puck entering the zone they’re tasked with defending - sounds simple enough in theory. 

Buffalo Sabres must master their “simple zone scheme” defensively

The issue, however, is glaring, as the Sabres have struggled defensively this season nearly as much as they struggled when in possession of the puck. It was on full display last night when the players allowed way too much traffic to enter the respective zones and create havoc in front of the net, especially when they were on the penalty kill. 

The result was a 4-1 loss, and arguably the team’s worst special teams performance of the season. It’s an issue of lack of focus and definitely a further issue of lack of aggression. 

Watching the Buffalo Sabres over the first half of the season, they have, when in possession of the puck, been inconsistent in building and keeping traffic in front of the net. This is because their opponents have routinely boxed them out and kept their respective zones clean if they also run a similar system. 

Overall, lack of physical play and forcing opponents from the quadrants of the ice they’re responsible for have contributed to this team’s poor play in the first period. If they want to fix their myriad of issues, mastering a scheme Granato couldn’t have made any easier is a great place to start.