With their most recent loss to the Winnipeg Jets, the Sabres reached the 40 game mark in their season. Ron Rolston was relieved of his duties after Game 20. That means that we now have seen the Sabres for 20 games under Rolston and 20 games under Ted Nolan. We now have an equal sample size, so we can finally look at the team’s statistics with an even playing field.
I put together a chart of what I feel are the most vital, or interesting, statistics of the season to date. I then divided them between games coached by Rolston, and games coached by Nolan. This allows us to compare and assess the team’s performance in different areas and see if they have improved or detracted under Nolan. To the naked eye, the Sabres appear to be more competitive under Ted Nolan, but let’s see what the numbers say:
1) The most obvious thing that jumps off the chart above is the team’s points. They have almost twice as many points (17) under Ted Nolan than they did under Ron Rolston (9). They have only won 3 more games under Nolan, but they have been able to get at least a point in 10 of their 20 games. Under Rolston, they earned in a point in only 5 of 20. That’s clearly an improvement.
2) Interestingly enough, scoring has not improved under Nolan. They scored 36 goals for Rolston and 35 for Nolan. What has improved dramatically is their defense. Under Rolston, they gave up 63 goals. They’ve cut that down to 50 under Nolan. That’s an improvement of over ½ goal a game.
3) Shot differential has improved significantly. They have been able to both increase their own shots per game and reduce the shots against their goaltender at the same time. However, even with that improvement, they are still being outshot by over 4 shots per game.
4) The same is true for their Corsi numbers. Corsi For is up, Corsi Against is down. That tends to show that the team is more competitive on the ice. Still, even with the improvement, the Sabres are out-Corsi’d on a regular basis. There’s definitely still room for improvement here.
5) The hit differential has decreased significantly as well. When teams outhit their opponent as much as the Sabres did in their games under Rolston, it is often a sign that they aren’t the team controlling the puck, but rather chasing the other team. There is also a degree of subjectivity in the hits statistic. In each building there is a different crew in charge of crediting statistics like hits, takeaways, and giveaways. What is credited as a hit or takeaway in Chicago may not be credited the same in say Toronto or Winnipeg. Still, the fact that the hit differential has come closer together under Nolan appears to be consistent with the theme of them being more competitive.
6) Penalties and Fights: One thing that I think most people anticipated with the high energy Nolan replacing the near comatose Rolston, was a more physical game. That hasn’t materialized. Well, at least the statistics don’t show that it has. The Sabres had more penalty minutes under Rolston than under Nolan and they engaged in many more fights. This could go back to the fact that the team is more competitive. Frustrations tend to come to the surface more often when a team is embarrassed by their play.
7) There hasn’t been a significant change in special teams play. In fact, the powerplay efficiency has gotten worse under Nolan. One thing that has changed for the positive though is the number of times that the Sabres are putting themselves on the penalty kill. The numbers would suggest a more disciplined game.
8) 1st period scoring: Probably the most embarrassing stat for the Sabres under Rolston was their performance in the first period of games. Being outscored 27-3 in the first period probably made players want to band their head against their locker, repeatedly. They have definitely improved in the first under Nolan. Scoring 8 and giving up 11 is much easier to stomach.
9) While their play in the first has improved, their second period play has nosedived. Under Ted Nolan, the Sabres have been outscored 22-10 in the second frame, while they were nearly even (17-18) under Rolston.
10) If 1st period scoring has been the most embarrassing, the total time leading and trailing statistic has to be a close second. Under Ron Rolston, the Sabres led for a grand total of 60:05, or an average of 3:00 per game. Let us not forget there are 60 minutes in a regulation hockey game. Having the lead for only 3:00 on average, over 20 games, is nearly unfathomable. Since Ted Nolan has taken over, the Sabres have been able to double that average to over 6:00 per game. That’s still only 10% of the game time. But it’s a vast improvement, nonetheless.
11) They still haven’t been able to get that elusive shutout. As good as their goaltenders have been, they haven’t kept their opponents scoreless all year. Ryan Miller is in the longest shutout drought of his career (currently at 75 games) and Enroth has played in 16 games since his last shutout. They have themselves been shutout 6 times, although only 2 times under Ted Nolan.
12) Cody Hodgson was clearly the best player under Rolston, leading the team in all 3 major offensive categories. Hodgson has not contributed nearly as much under Nolan. Yes, he has been hurt for the last several games, but even before getting hurt he wasn’t lighting up the scoresheet. He has only 4 points (1G, 3A) in 13 games for Ted Nolan.
13) Assistant captain Christian Ehrhoff has seemingly turned a corner since Ted Nolan took over. Even though his TOI per game has decreased ever so slightly, his production has taken off. Ehrhoff leads the Sabres with 10 points under Nolan, while he had only 4 points (all assists) under Ron Rolston.
So the naked eye look of a more competitive team seems to be supported, for the most part, by the statistics. What we don’t know for sure is how much credit Ted Nolan should be given for this improvement. Ted Nolan is, by all accounts, a coach that players like to play for. So it’s understandable that the team would be better under Nolan. But is it reasonable to think that had Nolan not replaced Rolston that they would have continued on the historically bad path that they were on and shown no improvement? Not likely. The team was bound to improve. There was really only one direction to go, and that was up.
Another point that should be made is that the team, and many of the statistics above, have been significantly better over the last 10 games than they were over Nolan’s first 10 games. So the improvement may be even better than we think. It wouldn’t be fair to think that team would instantly be better under Ted Nolan. It would take some time to adjust to his system and his style of play. That appears to be the case. With a record of 5-3-2 in the last 10 games, things are looking up. It will be interesting to see what the next 20 games will bring.
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LET’S GO BUFFALO!