Crease Crash Course: Nilsson Shines Against Cup Champs

Anders Nilsson put together another tremendous outing for the Sabres against Pittsburgh on Saturday night. He’s only seen a handful of starts but he’s quickly rounded into form and at least some of the credit needs to go to goalie coach Andrew Allen for putting Nilsson on a track well above his career numbers.

Before we dive into his play from Saturday, there’s one more thing to point out. green-guy

There are plenty of us on Sabres Twitter who complain about the lack of crowd noise and the poor atmosphere at Key Bank Center. So it may seem hypocritical to bemoan someone like this dude who is having a good time at the game. Only, he was obviously only attempting to get attention for himself. He seemed far more interested in being on television than adding to any actual atmosphere as it pertained to the game. Naturally, the Sabres Twitter account gave him all sorts of love since the only function of the account is to talk about how #fun things are regardless of what’s happening on the ice.

So, long story short, don’t be a doofus like the guy in the green suit.As for Anders Nilsson, it was another masterclass in goaltending. He got himself in trouble a few times and was bailed out by his teammates, but he was still very, very good on Saturday. He was so good that I expected Dan Bylsma to alter his goaltending schedule for the week, but he’s going back to Robin Lehner against Calgary. I would go with the hot hand, myself, but Lehner hasn’t been poor by any stretch. So it’s not as if they’re putting in a sieve against the Flames.

Some of Nilsson’s best work this season has come with him on the move. Perhaps his best save on Saturday came during a first period powerplay as he came across the crease to make a save and turned away a dangerous rebound shortly thereafter.

Nilsson stays square through the entire play, starting on the left hand side boards. He has a couple things to worry about here. The cross-ice pass is one but the threat of either a shot or give-and-go off the overload is a threat as well.pens1

The pass comes to Justin Schultz who has a clear lane to the net. This is beneficial to the shooter has he has the chance to step in and pick his spot, but it also allows Nilsson to get out to top of his paint and find the puck without traffic blocking his view. pens2

He’s unable to do much with the rebound as the puck caught the top of his left pad, but both Ristolainen and Gorges do a good job of preventing an open look on the second chance opportunity.pens3

The shot that does come is handled well by Nilsson, another solid save especially in this sequence. pens4

The left pad stop is eventually cleared to the corner and out of the zone.

There was a touch of good fortune here as the puck could have easily squirted to Nilsson’s left and onto the stick of Nick Bonino. If that were the case this is a sure goal. However, the puck stayed in front and Nilsson stayed under control to make the second save.

Where I was most impressed by Nilsson was how economic he was getting to position to make the save. It was a very simple movement from the post to the middle/top of the crease and he wasn’t once out of control during the entire sequence. It’s a very good sign for him and one of the reasons I’d continue to work him into the schedule more than originally planned.

The Sabres are fortunate this year to have a pair of impressive netminders. Nilsson’s numbers certainly give him the edge despite a smaller workload, but Robin Lehner has been no slouch himself. The two Swedes have been perhaps the most consistent aspect of Buffalo’s season to this point.

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