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Behind The Numbers

Sabres need to spread out scoring on power play, numbers suggest

Devils struggling with man-advantage; Penguins producing despite absence of Malkin

by Rob Reese @NHLReese / NHL.com Fantasy Editor

NHL.com goes behind the numbers to examine early season trends and forecasts their sustainability by using statistics and other relevant information. Trends examined in the following piece include the Buffalo Sabres' hot start on the man-advantage, the New Jersey Devils' struggle on the power play and how the Pittsburgh Penguins can maintain their success without No. 2 center Evgeni Malkin, out with a lower-body injury.

 

Sabres power play

The Sabres are tied with the Edmonton Oilers for most power-play goals (10) in the NHL and second in power-play percentage (35.7 percent) to Edmonton (45.5). A key addition to their power play this season has been rookie forward Victor Olofsson, whose six power-play goals are tied with Edmonton forward James Neal for the NHL lead. Olofsson's past four power-play goals have come from the right circle, but you wonder if teams will start trying to limit his chances there. Jack Eichel and Rasmus Dahlin, who each have six points on the power play, have combined with Olofsson for 18 power-play points (eight goals, 10 assists), while the rest of the Sabres forwards have combined for nine.

Buffalo's power-play percentage likely will regress if it doesn't spread out the scoring, and a prime candidate for that is forward Jeff Skinner, who has two power-play assists after finishing second on the Sabres with 16 power-play points last season. Regardless of any on-ice adjustments their opponents make, the Sabres' power play eventually will regress closer to the 25 percent mark. Six teams have finished better than a 25.0 percent success rate during the previous five seasons: Tampa Bay Lightning at 28.2 percent in 2018-19, the Florida Panthers at 26.8 percent in 2018-19, the Pittsburgh Penguins at 26.2 percent in 2017-18, the Boston Bruins at 25.9 percent in 2018-19, the Washington Capitals at 25.3 percent in 2014-15, and the Toronto Maple Leafs at 25.0 percent in 2017-18.

Video: BUF@ANA: Olofsson scores again on power play

 

Devils power play

The Devils are 0-4-2 and are one of two teams without a power-play goal this season, joining the Ottawa Senators. It simply could be that their new additions, among them forwards Jack Hughes, Wayne Simmonds and Nikita Gusev and defenseman P.K. Subban, require more time to develop chemistry. But the Devils have had 18 power plays this season. Left wing Taylor Hall leads the Devils with seven shots on the man-advantage and Gusev and Kyle Palmieri are tied for second with four each.

Simmonds has 18:22 of power-play ice time, second among New Jersey forwards to Hall (20:07), so he has been given every opportunity to have the power-play success he enjoyed with the Philadelphia Flyers from 2013-14 through 2016-17, where he had at least 21 power-play points in each. However, Simmonds was acquired by the Nashville Predators prior to the 2019 NHL Trade Deadline to try and provide a spark to their man-advantage but had no power-play points in 17 games. Subban, who has a Devils-leading 20:32 of power-play ice time, has two shots on the power play and needs to increase his shot volume to generate more chances. He ranks fourth among NHL defenseman with 145 power-play points since 2012-13 and is the critical piece to jumpstarting their top unit.

 

Penguins depth scoring

Things were looking bleak for the Pittsburgh Penguins when it was announced Oct. 5, after the second game of the season, that center Evgeni Malkin was expected to be out one month because of a lower-body injury. But the Penguins are tied with the Predators for second in goals (20) since then, one behind the Carolina Hurricanes, and have showed no signs of slowing without their No. 2 center in the lineup. No. 1 center Sidney Crosby has nine points (four goals, five assists) in the five games since Malkin was injured and defenseman Kris Letang has six points (one goal, five assists) during that span.

Though Crosby and Letang usually are carrying the load for the Penguins, Pittsburgh has gotten depth scoring from forward Sam Lafferty, who started the season with Wilkes-Barre/Scranton of the American Hockey League. Since Malkin's injury, Lafferty has five points (three goals, two assists) in five games. Another depth forward, Zach Aston-Reese, has four points (two goals, two assists) during the same span as well as a shot-attempts differential of plus-8, signifying the Penguins are generating more shot attempts than their opponents when he's on the ice. Pittsburgh's power play ranks 14th in the NHL at 23.5 percent since Malkin's injury. The spot that opened on their top unit without Malkin has been occupied by defenseman Justin Schultz, who leads Penguins defensemen with two power-play points since Oct. 6 and is building a case to remain there even when Malkin returns. Forwards Alex Galchenyuk, Patric Hornqvist and Nick Bjugstad also have missed time because of injury, further emphasizing the importance of the contributions by their depth forwards.

Video: COL@PIT: Crosby scores on backhand after nifty move

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