The NHL season continues to fly by, and as it does, the playoff picture is becoming much clearer. Unfortunately for the Buffalo Sabres, they might get cropped out of that picture unless something changes quickly.
Coming into the season, the Sabres were expected to take another step toward playoff contention after missing the playoffs by a single point last season. Instead, Buffalo is one of just two Eastern Conference teams to be below .500 in points percentage. The other is the Columbus Blue Jackets, which is a testament to how far the Sabres have fallen.
Granted, Tage Thompson just missed nine games due to injury, but that doesn't explain away all the team's issues. The Sabres' offense, which was a real strength of the team last season, has taken a noticeable step back. On the other end, the defense and goaltending just hasn't been good enough to compensate for that dip in scoring. At the rate things are going, Buffalo has to hope the Bills can make a playoff push.
With the Sabres slipping quickly, here are the updated NHL Power Rankings.
All expected goals and goals saved above average data courtesy of Natural Stat Trick.
|What has gotten into Trevor Moore this year? The 28-year-old forward has a career high of 48 points, but he has never cracked 30 in any of his other five NHL seasons. Moore is already up to 12 goals and 21 points in 2023-24, and he just scored an absolute gem of a goal against the Avalanche on Sunday. At least some of his success is due to the incredible chemistry Moore has found with Phillip Danault and Kevin Fiala.
|Artemi Panarin scored a hat trick last weekend, and he is now on pace for 53 goals this season. That would be a career high, but even if he slows down a bit this year, he could still shatter his career high of 32 by a wide margin. While Panarin is an excellent power play weapon, he has been doing a large portion of his damage at five-on-five. His 11 goals in those situations are tied for the league lead.
|After scoring 27 goals in 64 games last season, Jake DeBrusk has just four goals in 23 games this season. While those numbers are disappointing, DeBrusk has been finding other ways to contribute to Boston's success. His plus-10 goal differential at five-on-five is tied for second on the team, and the Bruins control 57.2% of the expected goals with him on the ice in those situations. DeBrusk will get hot in the scoring department, but in the meantime, he's still having a strong year.
|The Stars' top line has gotten a lot of praise in recent years, and that has been well-earned. However, a new dominant trio has emerged in Dallas. The line of Matt Duchene, Tyler Seguin and Mason Marchment has been an absolute menace. Those three are outscoring opponents 18-6 and have controlled 61.9% of the expected goals at five-on-five. It also helps that they have combined for 21 goals and 49 points.
|On the season, the Jets have been a rather strong defensive team. They have allowed 2.54 xGA/60 at five-on-five, which ranks 12th in the NHL. That's solid, and it should give any team the chance to be a solid playoff team. However, those numbers have dipped significantly of late. In the last three weeks, Winnipeg has been allowing 2.94 xGA/60. That ranks 27th over that span, but Connor Hellebuyck has been bailing his team out consistently.
|The Avalanche goaltending situation has gotten fairly interesting. Alexandar Georgiev has not gotten off to the best of starts, and 24-year-old Ivan Provetsov has played pretty well in limited action. Provetsov has posted a 2.45 GAA, .919 save percentage and a 2.11 goals saved above average in six appearances. Maybe Jared Bednar lets Provetsov get a few more starts in the near future.
|Andrei Svechnikov has just one goal in 15 games since returning from injury, but that doesn't mean he's been playing poorly. In fact, Svechnikov has been incredibly effective as a playmaker, picking up 10 assists since he returned to game action. Carolina has also smashed opponents with Svechnikov in the game at five-on-five. Eventually, that 2.6% shooting percentage will rise.
|Niko Mikkola has earned a shoutout at this point. I was not a fan of his game when he was with the Blues and Rangers, but he has really surprised me with the Panthers. Mikkola's five-on-five impacts have been pretty strong, and he has even provided some offensive pop. With Aaron Ekblad and Brandon Montour back in the lineup, Mikkola should only get better now that he is getting more favorable matchups.
|Now that the Canucks have turned around their five-on-five play, I have shifted my skepticism to the Red Wings. Detroit ranks 30th in xGF/60 at five-on-five, but it is second in actual GF/60. Those two things don't mesh, and that disconnect can probably be explained by the Red Wings' 13.5% shooting percentage in all situations. Detroit has some skilled offensive players, but can they keep this up for all 82 games?
|I think I'm starting to buy the Canucks as a legitimate threat in the Western Conference, even if the wins haven't been coming as frequently. Earlier in the season, I dismissed them because their underlying numbers were pretty lackluster, especially when compared to their jaw-dropping results. However, that process has improved in recent weeks. Since Nov. 15, Vancouver has owned 53.1% of the five-on-five expected goals and 54.6% of the high-danger chances.
|Chandler Stephenson was brilliant for the Golden Knights last season, but he has taken a step back in 2023-24. Stephenson's offensive production has really fallen off with just two goals and 11 points in 22 games, but his five-on-five impacts have been even more concerning. He has a minus-4 goal differential in those situations, and Vegas has been taking on water. Stephenson needs to get into a groove in for the Golden Knights to reach their maximum potential.
|Mitch Marner needed an offensive spark amid an eight-game goal drought, and he got one against the Kraken last week. Marner scored a hat trick in the Maple Leafs' shootout win in which he tallied all three of the team's regulation goals as well as the shootout winner. Maybe that will ignite a hot streak for Marner, who totaled 99 points last year.
|As one might expect, Andrei Vasilevskiy's return from hip surgery has not been terribly smooth. His 3.03 GAA and .887 save percentage are much worse than we're used to seeing from him, and he has allowed 2.05 goals above average in his five appearances. The good news is he rebounded from an ugly 8-1 loss to the Stars on Saturday to shut them out on Monday.
|Joel Farabee didn't break much of a sweat in the Flyers' 4-3 overtime loss to the Devils last week. That's because he played a whopping 56 seconds. Farabee made a mistake on his second shift of the game, and it led to a goal for Alexander Holtz. Flyers coach John Tortorella chose to glue Farabee to the bench for the rest of the game after that. It seemed like an extreme reaction from Torts, but he's getting results, so who am I to judge?
|Things are heating up in the desert. The Coyotes have won five straight games, and Michael Carcone cannot miss. The 27-year-old played just 30 NHL games prior to this season, but he now has 12 goals on the year after tallying four in his last three games. Eleven of those have come at five-on-five, which ties him with Artemi Panarin for the league lead. I think it's fair to say no one saw this coming from the former undrafted free agent.
|Alex Ovechkin is still sitting on five goals this season, which is not good for his chances of catching Wayne Gretzky on the all-time goals list. It's not for a lack of trying, though. Ovechkin has thrown 81 shots on goal and generated 9.68 expected goals. Both of those are first on the team, but Ovi is shooting just 6.2% on the season.
|I don't think injuries are contagious, but the Devils are trying to convince me otherwise. After finally getting Jack Hughes and Nico Hischier healthy at the same time, star defenseman Dougie Hamilton will be out indefinitely after undergoing pectoral surgery. New Jersey has been snake-bitten to this point in the season, and the team has no other choice but to have other players step up if it's going to climb the Metro Division standings.
|Luke Evangelista is quietly having a strong rookie season with four goals and 10 assists in 24 games. The former second-round pick has shown some nice playmaking ability for the Predators, and he has been getting some power play time as a result. If Evangelista proves to be a true top-six option for Nashville, that will be another piece for GM Barry Trotz to build around as he reconstructs the roster.
|Now that Nikita Zadorov is a member of the Vancouver Canucks, all the attention will now be directed toward what the Flames will do with defenseman Noah Hanifin, a pending free agent. Hanifin is on an expiring contract, and he should be a desirable player for playoff contenders. Hanifin owns a plus-4 goal differential at five-on-five, and the Flames have done a nice job controlling scoring chances with him on the ice. Hanifin is also having a nice offensive season with 12 points in 25 games.
|The Oilers have now strung together four straight wins, and this streak just happens to coincide with improved goaltending from Stuart Skinner. Since Nov. 24, when this run began, Skinner has saved 2.4 goals above average and has stopped 93.1% of the shots he's faced. Those aren't crazy numbers, especially over such a small sample, but it's been more than good enough for Edmonton to start stacking wins.
|Jordan Kyrou has just four goals this season, and he is currently in the midst of a 10-game goal drought. Kyrou hasn't found the back of the net since his two-goal game against the Lightning on Nov. 14. He has taken three or more shots in six games throughout this stretch, so he should snap out of it soon, but he almost certainly won't match his 37 goals from last season.
|The Penguins' depth issues remain glaringly obvious. Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin and the rest of the top six forwards are doing their part this season. However, they can't do it alone. Five Pittsburgh forwards have at least six goals and 13 points. No one else has more than three goals and eight points, which makes it difficult for the Pens to win if the top players are quiet.
|The Islanders have led for just under 598 minutes this season, which ranks seventh in the NHL. The problem is they have had a miserable time holding onto those leads, and that issue reared its ugly head against the Sharks on Tuesday night. The Isles held a 4-1 lead with under 10 minutes left, but San Jose rallied to tie, getting two goals with an extra attacker in the process. The Sharks went on to win in overtime, and the Islanders were stunned yet again.
|John Hynes has come in and gotten the Wild completely back on track. Why didn't Dean Evason consider having the team score on 13.7% of its shots and save 95.5% of the shots it faces? All kidding aside, the Wild have clearly responded to the coaching change, and they have been a dominant five-on-five team since then. Now we just need to see whether it's a temporary bump or if these improvements are here to stay.
|The Sens aren't as bad as their last-place position in the Eastern Conference indicates, but they aren't that much better either. Ottawa has been well below average at five-on-five this season, and goaltending has rarely bailed the team out. In even worse news, star defenseman Thomas Chabot suffered a lower-body injury just two games after returning from a fractured hand.
|Tage Thompson is healthy, but that's about the extent of the good news in Buffalo these days. The Sabres are riding a four-game losing streak, and their play has taken a real nosedive. Over the last two weeks, Buffalo has gone 2-5-1, and its five-on-five expected goals share is a horrific 43.2%. The Sabres are now below the Canadiens in the Eastern Conference standings, and their playoff chances look bleak.
|If we're looking for positives in Montreal, we can find it between the pipes. Sam Montembeault has been a pleasant surprise, and he has held up fairly well despite not being in an environment that's generally conducive to making saves. Montembeault has saved 3.33 goals above average with a .913 save percentage. He's managed to keep the Habs in a number of games this season.
|Last season, Seattle was shooting the lights out. The Kraken were scoring on 10.3% of their shots at five-on-five, but that number has dropped to 7.28% this season. That's not just poor luck either. Seattle is struggling to generate quality chances at a high rate. Their 10.0 HDSC/60 ranks 29th in the NHL, and it's a big reason why the team's shooting percentage has plummeted.
|Not much has gone right for the Blue Jackets this season, but Dmitri Voronkov looks like he might be a real difference-maker at the NHL level. A former fourth-round pick, Voronkov has posted far better five-on-five results than most of his teammates, and he has started to contribute on offense more consistently. His five goals are tied with Patrik Laine and Adam Fantilli this season.
|San Jose has been doing a little too much winning lately, and it has sacrificed its inside track in the draft lottery. Tomas Hertl might be to blame for that because he has nine points in his last six games, including a hat trick against the Islanders on Tuesday. The good news for the Sharks is that the Blackhawks have two games in hand on them.
|The Ducks are very bad, but I think Leo Carlsson is very good. The rookie has now scored in back-to-back games, and he is now third on the teams in goals (8) despite having played seven or eight games less than most of his teammates. Carlsson was an incredibly talented prospect. He did go No. 2 overall for a reason, but I didn't expect him to make this kind of instant impact.
|With two wins in their last 10 games, the Blackhawks have sunk all the way to the bottom of the NHL standings. Despite that, Connor Bedard has still been driving play and developing at a rapid pace. This is kind of an ideal scenario for Chicago, which is now in line to add Macklin Celebrini alongside Bedard.