For the third-straight game Robin Lehner allowed three or more goals and for the third-straight game Lehner failed to post a save percentage above .910. But I don’t look at his play as a detriment to Buffalo’s record.
Against Tampa on Thursday, Lehner was beaten four times by four very good shots. Perhaps he could have played the Brayden Point goal differently, but I think most reasonable fans would find it hard to peg any of the goals scored by Tampa squarely on Lehner’s shoulders. You can look back at the loss in St. Louis similarly although I don’t necessarily think the same of his performance in New Jersey (where he was still beaten by a number of perfect shots).
The issue with both Buffalo goaltenders this year hasn’t been their play but the play in front of them. Specifically in the offensive zone where the Sabres are providing dreadful goal support for both netminders. Lehner and Nilsson are both getting fewer than two goals per game from their teammates on average with Nilsson’s number at 1.55 after his win on Saturday and Lehner’s at 1.84. Lehner’s number is actually inflated a bit when you consider he was in net against Edmonton and Calgary, games which netted the Sabres nine goals; roughly 30% of Buffalo’s total offense on the year.
While the offense has sputtered, both goalies have been left basically needing to pitch a shutout to give the Sabres a regulation win. Somewhat unrealistic expectations when you think about it.
What jumped out to me about the Tampa game, aside from seeing the Bolts score three, potentially four perfect goals, was that it put another ugly goals against number in Lehner’s stat line for the year. Despite this ugly three-game run, Lehner’s goals against has just inched above 2.50 (2.53) and his save percentage is still a respectable .919. A few games with better team results and his numbers will rebound to the impressive levels they were at prior to Buffalo’s skid.
As for Thursday’s outing, one goal that really irked me was Tyler Johnson’s deflection goal. It was a great tip on a play that started off a pair of giveaways by the Sabres. The first isn’t pictured as the highlights of Thursday’s game didn’t include it, but another stretch pass through the neutral zone didn’t get home and sent the Lightning in with numbers. All three Buffalo forwards were behind the puck as Tampa gained the zone and it left Buffalo chasing for the entire play.
To their credit, the forwards got back to support in short order and almost diffused the play thanks to good work along the boards by Nick Baptiste and Jake McCabe. However, Baptiste makes a poor pass to William Carrier that had far too much heat on it. Carrier doesn’t handle the pass well and the play is a quick 180 from controlled to chasing in no time.
As Carrier loses his handle on the pass, Alex Killorn takes advantage, catching Carrier flat footed. It’s a sloppy swipe at the puck but it’s just enough to give Nikita Kucherov enough time to chase it down.
The Sabres are in full chaos now as McCabe was at a disadvantage defending Killorn based on how Baptiste collected the puck after the three-on-two. Cody Franson is stuck vacating the crease to chase the loose puck and Kucherov and Baptise is still below the circles, roughly marking Johnson.
This play is pretty much over at this point as every Sabre is puck watching, particularly Carrier and Baptiste who both fail to determine who needed to stay home on the crease and fill the role of centerman.
The end zone view paints the picture well from Lehner’s viewpoint. Kucherov is in a high danger area, albeit with pressure coming from a defenseman. Johnson is settling on top of the crease with not coverage nearby, giving Lehner a second threat to worry about as Kucherov rounds to shoot.
Lehner still has no help from his forwards as Kucherov puts the puck on net. He’s in good position, however, high enough in the paint to challenge the shot while also looking over Johnson’s shoulder to find the puck. Depending on your views, he should either have retreated to find the puck better through the screen, or play right out on the screen to eliminate a redirection.
He chooses the latter likely because he has a height advantage over Johnson and that made it easier to find the puck. Unfortunately he is victimize by a very good tip on the play, something he has little to defend against as he really did everything right on the play.
I would assume many fans are a bit sour on Lehner given the excellent play of Nilsson and the results of Lehner’s last three starts. Unfortunately there doesn’t seem to be a light at the end of the tunnel when it comes to goal scoring, so Lehner may need to put up a dominant outing to get himself back into the good graces of the fanbase.