Crease Crash Course: Sabres Victimized by Man Advantage

The Sabres finished the western portion of their road trip one or two points short of where they realistically should have been. A couple of gifts from the officials in Calgary wound up in an overtime loss – in a game the Sabres were thoroughly outplayed in – while the team was shooting blanks in Thursday’s affair in Vancouver.

Thursday’s loss to Vancouver was a particularly tough pill to swallow as Buffalo carried the play for long stretches only to be foiled by Jacob Markstrom on every prime scoring opportunity they created. Markstom had a set of very impressive stops on Matt Moulson and Kyle Okposo as the night wore on which likely would have been goals in many other occasions. Simply put, the Sabres hit a hot goaltender on Thursday.

Buffalo’s goaltending wasn’t too far off the pace set by Markstrom as Robin Lehner had a strong, if not unspectacular showing. He turned aside 18 of 20 shots, which won’t do much for his sub-900 save percentage but certainly speaks to his ability to stand tall in a tight game. Vancouver’s first goal came on a two-on-one rush where Jannik Hansen beat Zach Bogosian to the crease to tap in a loose puck that snuck through Lehner.

Buffalo’s goalkeeper played the rush well, stopping Brandon Sutter’s shot to his right shoulder put losing the puck under his arm. That left the puck sitting in the crease for Hansen to tap in for the easy tally. The play was relatively by the book. Bogosian’s stretch pass to Nick Baptiste bounced away from the rookie forward and allowed Vancouver to counter with speed as Buffalo’s forwards, and Bogosian were all moving against the grain of the turnover – something Tyler and I spoke at length about on this week’s podcast.

Bogosian got beat back through the zone for the goal while his partner, Jake McCabe played the two-on-one straight but didn’t step towards the pass option as Sutter was left to shoot. It was a strange play that I suspect McCabe expected more help on while Bogosian simply didn’t finish his backcheck. The goal and Vancouver’s second likely added to the cries for rebound control from Lehner as the leaky first goal was followed by a power play tally collected off a rebound.

However, the second Vancouver goal probably shouldn’t be blamed on Lehner or his rebound control but simply the man advantage Vancouver had on the play. After a blocked shot and a big save from Lehner, Vancouver winds up with a three-on-one advantage around the crease which leads to the tap in, game winning goal.

After blocking a shot, Josh Gorges is stuck a little too high off the crease as Vancouver collects the puck. His positioning provides more than enough space for a pass to Daniel Sedin, opening up the eventual cross-ice pass to Brandon Sutter which Lehner stops. pp1

The end zone camera gives a better idea of how Gorges’ positioning hurts the development of this play. Bear in mind, it’s not as if Gorges drastically misplayed the kill. The blocked shot could have easily cleared the zone or defelected to the boards or corner just as it could have easily wound up on a Vancouver stick. Unfortunately it was the latter, leaving Gorges too high to prevent Sedin from triggering his pass. pp1-ez

 

As Sedin is making his pass, Ryan O’Reilly is crashing down towards the crease and decides to dive in an attempt to deflect the pass. This is also on the mind of Rasmus Ristolainen and their combined efforts to disrupt Sedin’s pass have a trickle down effect on leaving the front of the net open after the shot. pp2

Sedin’s pass finds its home – as most Sedin passes do – on Sutter’s tape. The forward fires immediately by Lehner does a terrific job getting across the paint to stop the high quality chance. It’s a terrific save and impressive body control by Lehner as he could have easily come across with his body weight forward and wound up on his chest. He stays upright in his butterfly which is key as the inevitable rebound winds up on a Vancouver stick. pp-save

The broadcast angle of the save shows very well the consequences of O’Reilly chasing down too low to try to break up the pass along with Ristolainen’s elimination from the play. After a very good save, Buffalo is left with only Gorges on the crease and Marcus Foligno in no man’s land at the hashmarks while three Canucks crowd the net front. pp3

There’s been plenty of complaints about Lehner’s rebound control this year. While I’ve noticed some instances where he kicks a puck in a bad spot, I struggle to find how he, or any other goalie, could prevent some of the rebound goals scored against him this year.

We already did a detailed run down of the two-on-ones against Edmonton which were nearly impossible to prevent from a goaltending perspective and against Calgary his issue on the pair of weak goals scored against him was positioning, not rebounds. Against Vancouver the puck that leaked through him on Hansen’s goal is probably less a circumstance of rebound control and more an issue with sealing holes. Depending on how liberal or conservative you are with defining what a rebound is will lead you to your ultimate conclusion.

In this case, a cross-crease pad save is going to result in a rebound. Dominik Hasek would have kicked out a rebound in this situation and it’s a shame that Lehner is probably being roasted by some fans for every rebound he kicks out. What he does beautifully here is recover. The puck goes directly to Loui Eriksson who happens to be wide open on the edge of the crease. Lehner stays in control, gets square and eliminates most of Eriksson’s options. It’s textbook goaltending. pp4

The V shows the angle the puck sees relative to Lehner in the net. This is a staple at any goaltending clinic as the angle on the V directly illustrates how a goaltender should be challenging a shooter. Any puck on the ice is going to be stopped and Lehner is in perfect position to turn aside any attempts to lift the puck as well. The reverse angle illustrates this even better. It also shows the continued mismatch in front as Gorges is stuck splitting two players, one of whom winds up with the puck in a prime scoring position. pp4-ez

Where this gets a little wacky is when Eriksson sweeps it to the far post. He’s in a perfect position to shoot the puck and you’d assume nine out of ten players would pull the trigger in this situation. Lehner has backside help from Gorges and (sort of) Foligno, so he stands his ground. His responsibility is the puck carrier and the immediate threat of a shot. He shuts that down well.

That the pass Eriksson makes isn’t hung up by Gorges or even cleared is a little bit of bad luck for the Sabres and a little bit of world class hockey from Eriksson. Perhaps he was trying to get the puck to Henrik rather than Daniel, but the puck winds up on Daniel’s stick and he’s able to deposit into an empty net as there simply wasn’t enough coverage to handle the puck movement from the Canucks.

I’m expecting Anders Nilsson to get a look in the next game or two as I’m certain Dan Bylsma wants to see what his new goaltender offers in regular season play. I’m not sure that means he sees the ice against Philly as Bylsma may want to try and keep Lehner building towards positive outcomes. He’s had two games with four against and two games with two against and one of those four games probably qualifies as a stinker. Giving him a fifth is probably in everyone’s best interest even though you don’t want Nilsson to get too cold watching from the bench.

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