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Sharpen Up: February 21, 2017

by Jourdon LaBarber @jourdonlabarber / Sabres.com

It's been one full day since the Sabres last played. When your head hits the pillow tonight, it will mark the first time this month that the Sabres have gone two days in a row without a game. 

In other words, if watching the Sabres has become a bi-daily routine for you during this busy month and the bye week already feels like an episode of Survivorman, we don't blame you. 

So, how do you keep busy when you can't watch the Sabres? Here are a few ideas: 

 

Have fun with stats

There's a fun (not fun) philosophical argument about the eye test - watching players and evaluating them - versus using advanced stats to evaluate a player's performance. Ideally, both methods can be used in conjunction with one another, with the latter method supporting the former.

Getting lost in websites like puckalytics.com can be a fun way to pass the time when there are no games to watch, and a lot of times the numbers will support what you've been watching all along. I would know, that's how I spent my Monday night. 

Here are some interesting stats from the first three quarters of Buffalo's season:

1. The Sabres tend to score at even strength when Jake McCabe is on the ice. As of Monday night, McCabe has been on the ice for 42 goals at 5-on-5 strength according to puckalytics, a number that leads the team despite McCabe having missed five games.

In fact, of the games he's played in, McCabe has been on the ice for 48.84 percent of Buffalo's 5-on-5 goals. That number ranks second in the entire NHL. The only player with a higher percentage: Norris Trophy favorite Brent Burns. 

2. For two seasons, Dan Bylsma has made no secret of the three players he relies upon the most to shut down opposing team's top players. Those players are Ryan O'Reilly, Johan Larsson (prior to going down with an injury at the end of December) and Rasmus Ristolainen. 

Well, Opponent Goals-For per 60 (OppGF60) is a metric that can help support that claim. The statistic weighs the average goals-for per 60 of a player's opponents at 5-on-5 when those opposing players are not playing against him. Three Sabres ranked in the NHL's top 20 in this metric entering play on Monday, according to puckalytics: Larsson (2.41, tied for third in the NHL), O'Reilly and Ristolainen (tied at 2.40). 

That number for Ristolainen is tied with Karl Alzner and Erik Johnson for fourth among defensemen, behind only Zdeno Chara, Shea Weber and Travis Hamonic. Detractors of Ristolainen's game often point to his high amount of shot attempts against while he's on the ice (he leads the League with 1,271), but shot attempts are a statistic that are better served to be taken within context of a team.

Of those players, Chara, Weber and Alzner all lead their teams in shot attempts against (Johnson and Hamonic have both had their seasons cut short due to injury). 

One more statistic on Ristolainen: he's played 39.41 percent of Buffalo's ice time at 5-on-5, a number that ranks seventh in the NHL.

3. Amongst all goalies with 20 games or more played this season, Robin Lehner and Anders Nilsson rank sixth and eighth with save percentages of 92.47 and 92.31, respectively. 

 

Watch the scoreboard

Of the teams in contention with the Sabres, Florida was the only one to play on Monday and won 2-1 in St. Louis. The Panthers now sit third in the Atlantic Division, four points ahead of the Sabres with two games in hand. 

The Sabres, for reference, have 62 points in 60 games played. 

As for tonight, there are a handful of games you'll want to keep an eye on. The Senators (68 points in 57 games) have lost Bobby Ryan for three to six weeks, and both Mark Stone and Mike Hoffman may be injured as well. They'll play on the road at New Jersey (60 points in 59 games) at 7 p.m.

The Islanders (64 points; 58 games) play at Detroit (58 points; 59 games), the Lightning (60 points; 58 games) host the Oilers, and the Maple Leafs (65 points; 58 games) host the Jets at 7:30. 

Boston, which currently holds the second wild card spot with 66 points in 59 games played, will be out of action until Wednesday.

 

Watch this save

Video: BUF@MTL: Lehner dives to make game-saving glove stop

It's still fun. 

 

Watch the Amerks

Justin Bailey, Nicholas Baptiste and Evan Rodrigues were all reassigned to Rochester on Monday morning, a move that will keep the three young players busy during the bye week and also give fans another chance to catch them Buffalo in the meantime.

That trio, along with fellow prospects such as Alexander Nylander and Hudson Fasching, will be with the Amerks when they host the Utica Comes at KeyBank Center on Wednesday night. Tickets for the game are available and can be found here. 

 

Visit Sabres.com

We'll have our weekly Amerks Update posted to the site this afternoon, as well as a new Travel Blog from Brian Gionta. Sharpen Up will return on Wednesday morning. 

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