3 major improvements the Buffalo Sabres must make in Week 16 of 2023-24

We have reached Week 16 of the 2023-24 NHL Season, and the Buffalo Sabres are unfortunately still four points under 0.500, so improvements are needed.

Jan 20, 2024; Buffalo, New York, USA;  Buffalo Sabres left wing Victor Olofsson (71) takes a shot on
Jan 20, 2024; Buffalo, New York, USA; Buffalo Sabres left wing Victor Olofsson (71) takes a shot on / Timothy T. Ludwig-USA TODAY Sports
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Sitting at 20-22-4, the Buffalo Sabres remain under 0.500, and unless they get something going on this road trip, talk of the draft lottery will replace most talk of ending that playoff drought. But until the Blue and Gold are officially eliminated, my optimism is going nowhere, so let’s talk about how they can bounce back from yesterday afternoon’s ill-fated outing. 

There was one major reason the Sabres found themselves down 2-0 early, and such miscues are something strong opponents will always take advantage of. However, the Sabres can negate such a mistake (and other miscues) if the coaching staff gets more assertive. We will also discuss what the staff must do, before we end by talking about something that has haunted this team all season. 

The Buffalo Sabres have major improvements to make in Week 16

1 - Puck-handling

It didn’t take long for Ukko-Pekka Luukkonen’s shutout streak to end yesterday afternoon, but it also wasn’t entirely his fault. Both goals Luukkonen allowed came off of careless turnovers, and the latter was one major reason the Sabres could not win their third straight game and climb back to 0.500 in points. 

Inconsistent puck handling has been an issue for the Sabres all season, and until they stop turning the puck over and allowing scoring chances that ultimately cost them, we will keep seeing results like the one we saw yesterday. This isn’t to say the Blue and Gold’s puck handling has been awful all year, but it’s way too inconsistent. 

2 - Accountability

While the Sabres remain the NHL’s youngest team and young teams are prone to and should even be encouraged to make mistakes, they must also correct those mistakes. The time has come to limit a player’s ice time when they fail to make such corrections, even if it’s a high scorer or a disruptive defenseman. 

Head coach Don Granato shouldn’t pull players to the point where they play scared and that the strategy is a detriment to their game - we’ve all seen how that turned out once upon a time - but we have all watched the same movie play out one too many times this season. From here on out, if a player makes the same mistake twice, they must be held accountable until they correct it. 

3 - Taking advantage of facing backup/pedestrian goaltenders

Despite finding solace that the Buffalo Sabres will almost always give the Lightning a good game these days in my instant reaction piece, I also lamented the fact they only scored once on yet another backup or pedestrian goaltender. This week, the Sabres are facing two bad teams (again), neither of whom have great goaltending, plus the Los Angeles Kings. 

Only the latter possesses sound netminders with Cam Talbot and David Rittich, the latter of whom is enjoying a stellar campaign as a backup (0.937/1.58). Against Anaheim and San Jose, the Blue and Gold must put forth their best efforts when they have the puck and move on from the disaster on offense that was on Saturday. 

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(Statistics provided by Hockey-Reference)