Crease Crash Course: Weak Goals Tarnish Strong Game

The final score really doesn’t properly reflect the way Robin Lehner played against Calgary on Tuesday. In fact, his 3.30 GAA and .890 SV% don’t properly reflect the way Lehner has played through Buffalo’s first three games. It’s also far to early to determine whether or not Lehner is any good as there has only been three games.

Make no mistake, plenty of responsibility from the loss in Calgary sits with Lehner. After staking a lead in the third, Lehner was beaten on an otherwise nondescript shot by Matthew Tkachuk. It’s a shot that should be stopped 10 out of 10 times. Tkachuk is outside the dot with no threat of a backdoor pass. While Lehner gets out of the blue paint to challenge, he doesn’t make the final necessary adjustment as Tkachuk changes the angle for his shot. The subtle extension of his stick (pictured below) drastically changes what the puck is seeing, making for the short side tally that ties the game. Continue reading

The Instigator Podcast 5.19 – System Adjustments Keep Sabres on Track

After the injuries to Jack Eichel and Evander Kane, Sabres fans had a disappointing outlook for the season to come. However, the team rebounded from their disappointing opener with an impressive win against the Oilers. Chris and Tyler discuss how Buffalo’s system let them down in the home opener but helped carry them in their win against Edmonton.

As always, you can listen to the podcast here or find it on your mobile device:

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20 Reflections – The Arena at 20 with Andrew Kulyk of the Ultimate Sports Roadtrip

As Crossroads Marine Midland Arena HSBC Arena First Niagara Center Key Bank Center officially turns 20 years old this season, we will be bringing you a series of 20 posts looking back at the history of the building through the scope of the Sabres, Bandits, special events and more.

Through the series we’ll celebrate some of the greatest moments in the building’s history, remember heartbreaking defeats and look forward to the building’s future as the Pegula’s ownership continues on. The first iteration of the series will revisit the first episode of season five of The Instigator Podcast when Andrew Kulyk of Artvoice and the Ultimate Sports Roadtrip joined the show to discuss the pros and cons of the downtown arena, where the organization can improve the building while sharing chronicles of similar venues from his expansive travels.

Crease Crash Course: Franson Hangs Lehner on Far Pad Shot

Maybe the season isn’t over after all! The return of Kyle Okposo and Dmitri Kulikov gave the Sabres a much needed shot in the arm for their trip west.

Kulikov was out for both Edmonton goals but also did well distributing the puck on the breakout throughout the game. His first pass is terrific and I suspect his impact will be that much stronger if and when he’s paired with Rasmus Ristolainen as the season progresses.

Okposo was the real star, however. He scored his first goal in a Sabres uniform minutes into the first and then set up Ryan O’Reilly with a beautiful pass on a powerplay later in the first. His skill is evident and although it was only one game, it’s hard not to say that he adds a dynamic to the roster they were lacking against Montreal and throughout last season. At the very least he pushes talent down the depth chart, at best he’s another dynamic offensive weapon to add to Buffalo’s growing arsenal.

Last night could have easily gotten away from the Sabres. The Oilers have started the season on fire with Connor McDavid garnering early whispers for an Art Ross run. Buffalo’s hot start was quickly erased by a pair of odd-man goals from the Oilers in which two rebounds found the back of the net to tie the game. Luckily the Sabres righted the ship and cruised to a comfortable 6-2 victory. But the two quick goals and another big opportunity early in the second could have really shifted the tone of this game.

Often with rebound goals the first person to receive blame is the goaltender. If a juicy rebound ends up in the slot it’s probably the fault of the goaltender for not controlling his rebounds. This is true to a degree as there are certainly times bad rebounds end up in prime scoring areas. Other times those same rebounds are a result of well placed shots.

Look no further than both Edmonton goals last night. On the first, Robin Lehner took a shot up high on his right shoulder that eventually caromed off Benoit Pouliot’s shins and in to the net. Most shots up at a goalie’s shoulders will handcuff them to an extent. Even on the glove side where there’s more mobility, it’s not an area you have much control over. The puck can die and fall at your feet just as easily as it can shoot back out into the slot. For his effort there was very little Lehner could have done, especially considering Pouliot was in the way more than a shooter on that rebound anyway.

It was the second goal that I want to dive into deeper as part of our post-game series. On the second goal Lehner’s right pad save put the puck right on Milan Lucic’s stick for the tying goal. Another bad rebound? No, a well placed far-pad shot by Leon Draisaitl.

The play itself fell off the rails early as Kulikov caught an edge as he attempted to retreat out of the zone. His stumble gave Lucic the lane to hit Draisaitl and create a two-on-one right at the red line.1 2

That second frame really shows the damage Kulikov’s stumble did to the play. Draisaitl already has momentum and a head start on Kulikov as he tries to turn and stay in the play while Franson is stuck in no man’s land. On a slightly related note, Johan Larsson, in this frame, is still in a position to skate hard and get back into the play as a backchecker. By the time the puck is in the net, Larsson is a non-factor on the play.

As Draisaitl moves in on goal the two-on-one really develops. Franson, who was somewhat flatfooted himself is stuck turning to skate with the attacking players while Kulikov is left chasing the puck carrier. Still, at this point Draisaitl is more of a shooter than passer and Lehner is playing him as such; well outside his paint, cutting down the angle.3

Where things go wrong for the Sabres is when Franson commits to diving at Draisaitl, leaving his backside coverage and violating one of the fundamental rules of a two-on-one (leave the puck carrier to the goalie). Here you see Franson begin to fully commit to Draisaitl while Lehner still holds his ground on the top of the crease. If Franson simply finds Lucic, Kulikov’s pursuit of Draisaitl likely results in a relatively harmless shot on goal.

The red line shows the side of the ice Franson is currently responsible for. Not all two-on-ones are built the same, so the old adage of leaving the shooter for the goalie isn’t always correct. However, in this case it’s certainly true. Any threat of a pass or rebound opportunity sits on the left side of the red line on the image. If Franson stays home there’s no second chance opportunity.3-5

This is the moment just before the goal. Lehner has made the save on top of his paint and the puck kicks out to the slot as Draisaitl did very well to place it on Lehner’s right pad. It’s a shot placement that gives a goalie very few options. It’s not up in his hands where he can punch out the puck with his blocker but in his feet. A shot coming from the boards to a goalie’s far pad will result in 99.9% of rebounds will ending up in the slot. It’s a great play by Draisaitl and sets up Lucic for an incredibly easy goal.

Also in this shot you see Franson’s futile dive opening Lucic for the easy rebound goal. Had he stayed in lane he likely ties up Lucic and the puck heads the other way as Buffalo’s backcheckers pick up the rebound. 4

The end zone shots do an even better job showing what Franson’s decision did to alter the play. He’s originally in a position to take away the option of a pass or rebound by simply playing the rush safe. As he dives he goes from having good position on the second man to taking himself completely out of the play. ez1



It’s a tough way for a play like that to develop as Franson was likely scrambling as both he and Kulikov had been caught flat-footed in the neutral zone. Franon’s decision is likely based on trying to cover for his partner as the play got away from them at the blueline. What this wasn’t was a simple case of poor rebound control. Yes, Lehner kicked the puck out into the slot but a perfectly played far pad shot left him with no other options for where the rebound was going to end up. Losing the defenseman who could clear the rebound led to the goal that tied the game at two.

Crease Crash Course: Bad Bounce, Coverage Doomed Lehner on Second Habs Goal

Another Sabres season started with a dud as the Montreal Canadiens left Key Bank Center with a 4-1 win last night. Just over 24 hours after losing Jack Eichel for an extended period, Evander Kane left the arena on a stretcher and the Sabres were beaten up and down the ice by their division rivals.

As part of a new installment this season, I’ll take a look at the goals scored against the Sabres – and sometimes scored by the Sabres – from a goalie’s perspective. The idea is to identify potential reads and expectations for the Sabres goaltenders on goals that would otherwise be categorized as weak or bad.

Part of my motivation is to simply add to an otherwise one-sided conversation for fans who are otherwise unfamiliar with the nuances of the position. Additionally, the general outlook for the Sabres this season hinged on whether or not the goaltending could carry the load. After allowing four goals in the opener, it’s easy to form concern over Lehner’s play. Although his play last night was certainly better than the four goals and 20-save performance he turned in.

Lehner played in control the entire night and wasn’t stuck out of position or behind the play in any instance. While the first goal, despite the poor gap control from Josh Gorges and eventual high screen, was one that needed to be stopped. A shot from outside the circles on a one-on-one needs to be turned aside even with a late screen as occurred last night.

The same could be said of the fourth goal as Lehner had the puck sneak under his arm before it eventually trickled over the line. However, the defensive coverage on the play was so bad it’s hard to point one finger at Lehner despite the leaky nature of the goal.

Montreal’s third goal was easily forgivable as nearly any redirect goal should typically absolve the goaltender from responsibility. That leaves us with one goal where Lehner should carry no responsibility, one he should have stopped and another somewhere in the middle with perhaps a bit more blame laying at the feet of the Buffalo goaltender. The goal I’m leaving out is the second, which was an awkward goalmouth chip in that almost assuredly has drawn ire from armchair goaltending experts from around WNY.

The goal was a combination of a bad bounce and bad coverage with Lehner ultimately losing track of the puck before the goal was scored. Here’s a closer look: Continue reading

Goalie Gear Watch: New Masks and Gear Throughout the Sabres Organization

On the eve of the Buffalo Sabres season (and hours after the Eichel gut punch) we thought it would be cool to take a look at the new paintjobs and new gear Buffalo’s goaltenders will be wearing this season.

All four goaltenders who will be splitting time between Buffalo and Rochester will be using masks painted by Dave Gunnarsson (DaveArt) which probably should be of little surprise given his massive NHL portfolio and Swedish nationality. That the Sabres feature three Swedes certainly helps push business to the NHL’s preeminent mask artist.

As for gear, things are split down the middle between CCM and Vaughn. Robin Lehner and Jason Kasdorf are Vaughn disciples while Anders Nilsson and Linus Ullmark both sport CCM gear. Here’s the full rundown: Continue reading

Reasons for Optimism in the Sabres Crease

Ask around and most fans and pundits will tell you the Sabres will only go as far as their goaltenders will take them this season. While there are some question marks in the crease, I think Sabres fans may be in for a pleasant surprise this year.

There’s a lot of talk about exactly how far Robin Lehner can take the Sabres this season. His health, an issue last year, has served as the single biggest criticism of his game not just here in Buffalo but from his time in Ottawa as well.

However, given the level he performed at last season and the shape he came to camp in this fall should serve to erase most, if not all of the concerns Sabres fans have about the team’s starting goaltender. Tim Murray paid a lot to acquire Lehner and question marks followed him from Canada’s capital but there should be nothing but confidence in Lehner entering the season.

The start of Lehner’s first season with the Sabres is well documented. Concussion symptoms crept into his offseason training, leaving him overweight for the start of the season. Double down on the high ankle sprain suffered in the opener and the subsequent three-month absence and you’re left with an incomplete evaluation of his play. Continue reading