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G67 Game Notes: Can the Oilers Solve the Sabres’ Secret?

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Photo credit:Timothy T. Ludwig-USA TODAY Sports
Jason Gregor
22 days ago
The Buffalo Sabres are the best team in the NHL in one area where most teams struggle. And it really doesn’t make sense why.
— The 2015 Buffalo Sabres finished dead last in the NHL with 54 points. They had the best lottery odds to draft Connor McDavid, but luck wasn’t on their side on April 18th as Edmonton won the draft lottery and took McDavid first overall in June. Buffalo lost the lottery, and they haven’t made the playoffs since. In fact, they are on the verge of missing the playoffs for an NHL-record 13th consecutive season as they enter tonight sitting 11th in the East and five points out of the second wildcard spot.
— Since the start of the 2015-16 season Buffalo has the third-lowest P% in the NHL at .465. Only Detroit (.462) and Arizona (.452) have been worse, yet the Sabres are the best team at limiting McDavid’s production. That isn’t a typo. The 30th-ranked team the past nine seasons has been the best at limiting McDavid’s offence.
— McDavid has scored 944 points in 619 games, for an average of 1.54 points per game (PPG) against the other 30 NHL teams, but he’s only scored 14 points in 14 games v. the Sabres. McDavid is so good that limiting him to one point/game is considered a big win, and the Sabres hold that crown. The Boston Bruins have the best regular season record in the past nine seasons at .668P%, and McDavid has scored 1.54 PPG (20 points in 13 games) v. them. But Buffalo has found a way to somewhat contain him.
— The St. Louis Blues are second best, allowing 24 points in 23 games (1.04 PPG), followed by the New York Islander at 1.13 (17 points in 15 games), Minnesota at 1.18 (26 points in 22 games) and Montreal at 1.28 (32 points in 25 games).
— McDavid has 119 games where he has produced three or more points. Buffalo is the only team he’s yet to have a three-point game against. Here’s how many he’s had against the other 30 teams.
10: Anaheim and Calgary.
7: Winnipeg.
6: Ottawa and Vancouver.
5: Arizona, Columbus, Nashville, Philadelphia, Pittsburgh and Toronto.
4: Colorado, Dallas, Florida, Montreal, San Jose and Vegas.
3: Carolina, Chicago, LA and Washington.
2: Minnesota, New Jersey, Seattle, St. Louis and Tampa Bay.
1: Boston, Detroit, NYI and NYR.
Will he pick up his 120th three-point game and first of his career vs. the Sabres tonight?
— The Oilers enter the final month of the season with the fewest games played in the NHL at 66. They will play 16 games over the next 29 days. It will be interesting to see how Kris Knoblauch handles the ice time of his top players. Having leads in games v. the bottom-tier teams will allow him to spread out the minutes a bit better. I think we will see it more in April, when the Oilers have three sets of back-to-back games
— In early February there was some concern over the number of games Stuart Skinner had started. A light January schedule had allowed the Oilers to play him most games. He was on pace to start over 60 games, but I outlined the rotation I thought we would see down the stretch. So far, I’ve been accurate on the number of starts for Skinner and Calvin Pickard. I was incorrect on a few of the games they’d start (those are in red).
They switched starts that are highlighted in red, but to date Skinner has started 12 while Pickard has started six. I think the final six games this month will play out as expected. Looking ahead to April, I still believe we will see a 6-4 split. Originally, I had Pickard starting both games v. Colorado, but I’ve switched that now as I think they will want Skinner to get those games. I could be wrong on who starts which games, but I still see a 6-4 split being the right number for the Oilers. If it happens, then Skinner will finish with 57 starts and he should be fresh to start the playoffs with only four starts in the final 13 days of the season. They might want him to start seven in April, which would leave him with 58 starts, which would be fine.
— Knoblauch admitted he is experimenting with different wingers with Adam Henrique to see who the best fit for him will be. Ryan Nugent-Hopkins and Corey Perry will be on Henrique’s line tonight. “I always try to ensure I’m in the right spot on the ice and to work my hardest, so guys who have a similar mindset are always easier to play with,” said Henrique. “Everybody then is kind of doing the same thing and if it is your turn to go in and work, then you go, and that predictability is easier to play with. Having so many guys who can play centre helps, especially defensively. And I think it is a luxury for the coach to be able to mix and match and move things around when needed, whether it is in games or practice, to try and build chemistry amongst players.”
— For those who are concerned Knoblauch is changing lines, it is important to note many players I’ve spoken with like the fact the Oilers have the ability to move guys around, and they expect Knoblauch to try different combinations down the stretch. They feel it is important to understand what different guys like and where they want to go. Knoblauch said he is getting a better sense of which combinations he likes, but with Henrique having only played six games, he feels he needs more time to find the winger who works best with him.
— The Sabres need a win tonight. They have 71 points and are five points back of Detroit for the second wildcard spot. Washington has 75 points while the New York Islanders have 73. The Sabres’ odds are very low that they will make it, but they should be desperate, and the Oilers will need to match that desperation.
**Green represents a top-10 team, yellow is a bottom-10 team, while red is a road game and black shows home games.**
The Sabres only have 12 games remaining, so not only are they chasing Detroit, Washington and New York, they play fewer games. Tonight borders on a must-win for them.
— Since January 1st, Sabres netminder, Ukko-Pekka Luukkonen leads all starters with a .930Sv% and he has the lowest GAA at 1.92. He has started 25 of the last 29 games. He’s been outstanding and the main reason the Sabres have a slim chance of making the playoffs.

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