Will the Buffalo Sabers improve their shorthandedness?

This is the fourth story in a five-part series detailing the issues the Sabers will face this summer.

Season-ending meetings between the Buffalo Sabers coaching staff and general manager Kevyn Adams will shape on-ice strategy and roster direction.

The disciplined defense the Sabers showed in their 9-2-1 must continue next season. Their best players must learn from the mistakes that have rendered a formidable power play ineffective over the past few weeks.

However, the Sabers’ 28th-ranked penalty kill may be the area of ​​their game that needs the most attention as coach Don Granato prepares for training camp in the fall.

“The penalty kill is interesting in the sense that when you don’t gain confidence right away on the penalty kill, you worry about getting scored,” Granato said. “And when you’re worried about getting marked, hesitation is just a power play and we’ve seen a lot of that in the progression.”

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This is a multi-layered issue that will require the Sabers to identify how they want to stop opposing players, which of their forwards will be used in shorthanded situations, the methods their centers can use to win more bets in the game and how they can help their goalkeepers be more effective. effective outnumbered.

Pressure on the puck is a key part of any successful penalty kill. It’s a recipe for disaster to allow opponents to squeeze into the offensive zone until there’s a clear shooting path for a talented forward like David Pastrnak of the Bruins or Alex Ovechkin of the Capitals.

Too often, the Sabers have seemed hesitant trying to defend. The attackers weren’t fast enough to close. Other teams were able to fire shots from the point to create chaos in front of the net. Buffalo ranked 30th in the NHL in shot attempts allowed per 60 shorthanded minutes, according to Evolving-Hockey. No team in the bottom 12 qualified for the playoffs. Only four teams allowed better quality shots than the Sabers, who were also last in percentage of shot attempts blocked.

Saber Finishers per Month


NHL Rate/Ranking


79.3% (17th)


69.4% (29th)


74.4% (19th)


74.2% (26th)


63.6% (32nd)


75.7% (18th)


73.7% (21st)

The Sabers need to deploy a penalty kill with fast, aggressive forwards that close in on the puck carrier quickly. There have been times throughout the season when they have done so effectively, as illustrated by their nine shorthanded goals. Hesitation might have been the reason they didn’t consistently use this approach.

Granato said at the end of the season that he was impressed with how three of his forwards fared in their shorthanded roles: Dylan Cozens, Alex Tuch and Jack Quinn. They brought an element that was missing early before the All-Star break, using their speed to pressure their opponents.

The Sabers want to keep veteran forwards Kyle Okposo and Zemgus Girgensons, both of whom are on the penalty kill. It’s unclear if Adams plans to target a replacement in free agency if he leaves on July 1 — Okposo is expected to return next season — or if Granato would give a young forward like Quinn more ice time. Lukas Rousek could also kill penalties if promoted from Rochester.

Girgensons led all Sabers forwards in ice time this season and Okposo ranked fourth, behind Cozens and Tuch. Adams has a decision to make regarding restricted free agent forward Tyson Jost, who lost his spot as the leading penalty taker in the second half of the season when Peyton Krebs got a role.

Total shorthanded ice time this season
Matthias Samuelson
Zemgus Girgensons
Ilya Lyubushkin
Dylan Cozens
Henry Jokihar
Alex fabric
Rasmus Dahlin
Kyle Okposo
Owen Power
Tyson Jost

Injuries, especially in defense, have been a problem this season. Jacob Bryson and Casey Fitzgerald were thrust into leading and penalty shootout roles when Ilya Lyubushkin and Mattias Samuelsson ran out of time. Dahlin was not used as frequently after the star break because his workload had to be managed. That caused Granato and his penalty kill assistant coach Marty Wilford to shift responsibility to Owen Power, who received more ice time than all but one defenseman in March when Buffalo had its most effective month ever. numerical disadvantage.

Improvement will come through the development of young Sabers defensemen. Samuelsson has the potential to be a stoppage penalty killer. Dahlin was exceptional when he was healthy enough to take on the responsibility. Adams will also try to add to the group this summer. He plans to add a defenseman through trade agency or free agency who can skate more than 20 minutes a game and kill penalties.

Results have been poor at times in the final weeks of the season, but the Sabers have begun to identify players who will kill penalties in the fall.

Total shorthanded ice time after star break



Ilya Lyubushkin

Zemgus Girgensons

Matthias Samuelson

Alex fabric

Henry Jokihar

Peyton Krebs

Owen Power

Kyle Okposo

Rasmus Dahlin

Dylan Cozens

“It got better in that regard later in the year,” Granato added. “More confidence as guys like Tuch and Quinn and guys who weren’t shorthanded at the start of the year started to get better and better. I thought Cozens was better. But you still have this unfortunate thing where you know, in the back of your head, we haven’t had good numbers on this, and you still have this hesitation. We need a good start next year. We have to bring the mentality about it into a situation where we are more confident.

Shorthanded troubles often start in the point, where the Sabers ranked 31st in the NHL with a negative 91 face-off differential when shorthanded. Each of their centers struggled in those situations: Girgensons (48.79%), Cozens (41.8), Krebs (40.6), Tage Thompson (32.6) and Jost (19.6). That last number is something to keep in mind as the Sabers debate whether to bring Jost back next season.

Buffalo News sportswriter Lance Lysowski on the Sabers’ penalty kill.

The Sabers won’t be signing a faceoff specialist this summer. Their path to improving from the face-off point is through the development of their young centers. It’s also possible that Casey Mittelstadt will be used on the penalty kill after winning 9 of 17 faceoffs shorthanded and 45.9% overall. Nor are the centers solely responsible for a lost face-off. Sometimes a defenseman’s winger loses a puck battle, giving possession to the other team.

The Sabers finished 23rd in the NHL in shorthanded save percentage, according to Natural Stat Trick, and their best was Craig Anderson, who led the group with an .882 mark. Ukko-Pekka Luukkonen was second at 0.833, followed by Devon Levi (0.826) and Eric Comrie (0.823).

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