BUFFALO — One month ago, the Sabres underwent a major organizational shakeup by firing general manager Darcy Regier and coach Ron Rolston, and installing former Sabres head coach Ted Nolan as an interim coach.
One month later, Buffalo still is without a general manager, and while on the surface the Sabres seem to be working harder under Nolan, than before the change, how is that really translating to their performance?
In 20 games under Rolston, the Sabres were 4-15-1, with just a single win in regulation to his credit. As for the baker's dozen games under Nolan, the Sabres have gone 3-8-2, also notching just one regulation win — which came in his first game back behind the Buffalo bench on Nov. 15 against Toronto.
Buffalo's big problem under both coaches continues to be the lack of offense. The Sabres are on pace for just 137 goals total this season — a mark that this year's Chicago squad is just five goals short of through 35 games, and would be just four more than the 1953-54 Blackhawks' NHL-record low mark of fewest goals in a season of more than 70 games.
Nolan's team took on the Calgary Flames on Saturday — another club now in the market for a new general manager after they fired Jay Feaster this past week — and while the effort certainly was there, only Matt Moulson could light the lamp in a 2-1 overtime loss.
No player has more than eight goals in a Sabres uniform this year (Moulson has 11 when combined with his total before the October deal that brought him to Western New York), and under Nolan, while the defense has improved, the offense has actually gone the other way, averaging just three goals every two games.
Before the coaching change, the Sabres were averaging 1.8 goals-per-game under Rolston, and allowing 3.15. Since Nolan took over, Buffalo actually is down to just 1.5 goals-per-game, while goals allowed are down to 2.54 on average.
Therein lies a big part of Buffalo's problem: While the goaltending and defense has been improved and given the Sabres a chance to win games, the offense is still lacking from not having many finishers on the roster. It's difficult to win games when you are averaging less than two goals per game, and Buffalo hasn't scored more than two since Nov. 29 — a string of six games.
If you look deeper, the numbers (or lack thereof) are pretty staggering. Buffalo has seven total first-period goals this season, half of what the 29th-ranked Panthers have, and even three less than the NHL's leading goal-scorer Alex Ovechkin has by himself.
In addition, the Sabres have had a two-goal lead just three times this season — twice thanks to an empty-net goal — and for a total of just 3:14 of playing time. And, following Nolan's 3-1 win over Toronto back on Nov. 15, the Sabres haven't had a two-goal lead since.
The biggest difference that seems to have come into play under Nolan, there is more accountability, as Marcus Foligno found out after he was benched for all but one shift of the third after taking a penalty late in the second period over the weekend.
"You don't mind penalties but once they start getting lazy and you start grabbing people and cross-checking people for no reason, you're better off not playing," Nolan said.
Unlike his first tour of duty in Buffalo, Nolan doesn't quite have the underachieving bunch right now, but rather a thin roster that will only get thinner once pending UFAs Ryan Miller and Moulson likely are dealt whenever a new general manager is in place.
So, a month later, while the Sabres have shown signs of improvement, they still have two gaping needs: a general manager and an offense.