This season I have been manually tracking transition data for every Sabres game, and through the first 10-games of the season, there’s a lot that’s been uncovered about the Sabres transition strategy in 2021.
By manually tracking breakouts and entries for at 5v5 for at both a team-wide and individual level, the numbers reveal an interesting story about Ralph Krueger and the coaching staff’s strategy in terms of breaking out of the defensive zone and entering the offensive zone.
Through the first 10-games, the breakout numbers are about what you would expect from the Sabres.
The team breaks out of their own zone with control of the puck (either via a carry-out or a breakout pass) about 60% of the time.
Relying primarily on their defence and two elite forwards, but for the most part, everyone on the roster contributes to their breakout strategy.
15 of the Sabres 19 players (with >5 GP) have a breakout rate of 50% or higher, meaning most of the team is successful at getting the puck out of the defensive zone.
The Sabres only have four players on with a controlled breakout rate of less than 50%, Colin Miller, Kyle Okposo, Cody Eakin and Eric Staal.
Two of those names are expected, since Okposo joined the Eakin line they have gone downhill and are constantly hemmed in their own zone, forcing them to just get the puck out any way they can.
Considering Staal’s age, his skating ability it’s not surprising to see him struggle with controlled breakouts, but Staal isn’t there to be an elite transition player so I don’t see any cause for concern in his breakout numbers.
I’ve tracked Miller with 71 breakout attempts this year at 5v5, tied for most on the team, he has struggled to connect on breakout passes and struggled at carrying the puck out. He faces pressure and tends to throw the puck off his stick the second he faces adversity.
We all know Miller is a good puck moving defenceman, so I don’t expect his breakout numbers to continue on this trend but it is something to monitor.
Top-5 Breakout Players
In terms of quantity, the top-5 breakout players for the Sabres are: Jake McCabe, Jack Eichel, Brandon Montour, Rasmus Ristolainen and Rasmus Dahlin.
In terms of effectiveness, the top-5 are: Jack Eichel, Taylor Hall, Jake McCabe, Tage Thompson, and Curtis Lazar
Observations about the Sabres Breakout Numbers
Like most teams, the Sabres rely heavily on their defenceman to lead the charge in terms of breakouts, but they do get contributions from everyone on their roster.
Jack Eichel and Taylor Hall are two of the best players in the league at breaking the puck out of their own zone. Having two elite breakout forwards is a luxury in the NHL, whenever they are on the ice they can grab the puck in their own zone and immediately transition the puck to the neutral zone.
At first glance the Sabres look like a team that struggles to gain entry into the offensive zone, they only have a controlled entry rate of 46.97% at 5v5 this season.
However, when you watch the Sabres play you know that they are a dump and chase team. Aside from a few players (Jack Eichel, Taylor Hall, Jeff Skinner and Rasmus Dahlin) the Sabres rely on getting the puck past the opposing defence and retrieving it to set up their offence.
On 694 attempted entries, I have tracked the Sabres with 316 dump-ins, so while the Sabres don’t have a high controlled entrance rate, it’s not for a lack of ability, it’s due to a lack of trying.
Top-5 Entry Players
In terms of quantity, the top Sabres are: Jack Eichel, Taylor Hall, Jeff Skinner Dylan Cozens and Sam Reinhart.
For effectiveness, they are: Jack Eichel, Taylor Hall, Tage Thompson, Rasmus Dahlin and Henri Jokiharju.
Observations about the Sabres Entry Numbers
Aside from Dahlin and Jokiharju most Sabres defenceman rarely even try to enter the zone with the puck. If they have the puck at the red line, it is almost certainly getting dumped below the opposing team’s goal line.
Again, Eichel and Hall show that they are elite transition players; both are at the top of the Sabres in terms of breakouts and entries.
While the Sabres brought Hall in for one-year and told him he’d be able to play with Eichel, when you look at the transition numbers, as well as other metrics it is definitely an idea for Krueger so keep them separate for an extended period of time to see how it works.
Both players can carry their own line, both players love to have the puck on their stick and carry it up and down the ice.
A way for the Sabres to maximize their roster would be to take their best transition forwards and split them up, creating a more effective lineup.
Final Thoughts – Tage Thompson’s Transition Game
Another player that has been effective in the transition game has been Tage Thompson.
In limited action (5-games), Thompson has a controlled breakout rate of 70.59%, according to my tracking he’s a top-5 breakout and entry player on this team.
This season, Thompson ranks 4th on the Sabres in controlled breakout rate and 2nd on the team in controlled entry rate. The tricky thing for Thompson and the Sabres is his usage, he hasn’t had the production or underlying metrics that warrant a regular spot in the lineup, but it’s clear that he has the ability to carry a line in the transition game.
If the Sabres could find suitable linemates who don’t need to carry the puck, but also have the ability to make up for his defensive inefficiencies, I think there’s a chance Thompson becomes the player that signed a multi-year one-way contract.
Keep an eye out on the advanced stats page, as I update my tracking after I complete every game! The data is all at 5v5, and there’s a glossary on the page to explain everything that I track, and feel free to follow @austin_broadTCB on twitter.