Sabres look to improve defense for 2017-2018
By John Giustino
After a lackluster 2016-2017 season, the Buffalo Sabres had their work cut out for them; especially on the defensive side of the puck. In their most recent season, the Sabres’ even strength Corsi totals for and against placed within the bottom ten, with their Corsi For percentage being twenty-ninth in the league. Their Goals For percentage at even strength was just over forty-four percent which is not surprising when reading into their shot metrics. The Sabres as a team allowed the opposition to take several more shots than them in most games with only a few players as exceptions.
Studying shot metrics and possession numbers are important because they give fans and organizations alike more predictive information over large sample sizes on how their team as-is will drive play during the eighty-two game season. If one allows significantly more shots against, they will most likely allow more goals against. The hiring of Phil Housley brings hope that changes will be coming on the ice and on the metric charts for the Sabres. Housley was an integral part of coaching the Nashville Predators’ defense well enough to maximize their abilities for four seasons. The Predators sported a top five Corsi For percentage in the past three seasons with the guidance of Housley. He comes into a similar position in Buffalo, where there is a young defense corps in need of guidance. One may expect a more north-south game plan drawn up under the new coach, similar to what one would have observed during his employment with the Predators.
The addition of Nathan Beaulieu will be welcomed on the Sabres as well. The young defenseman posted slightly better than an even Corsi For percentage and a near fifty-seven Goals For percentage in over one-thousand minutes of icetime in Montreal. Beaulieu still has development to do in order to become a more complete player but can be expected to slot into one of the defense pairings in Buffalo with relative ease. Viktor Antipin of Metallurg Magnitogorsk was a driver of play during the 2016-2017 Kontinental Hockey League Season who will also be a potential play driver in Buffalo with playoff and championship game experience at a young twenty-four years old.
While changes in play style are not overnight, we may be able to see changes this upcoming season with better suited defense pairings consisting of players who are younger, faster, and more capable of driving play from the back end which would result in better Corsi For, Corsi For percentage and Goals For percentage, all positive metrics for a young corps that seemed to struggle just one season ago.
*Stats by Natural Stat Trick and PuckIQ