The Sabres were just minutes away from an impressive comeback road win in Sunrise when a quartet of bad plays led to the tying goal in a game the Sabres would ultimately lose in a shootout.
At the center of Nick Bjugstad’s goal is Zach Bogosian, who makes a number of bad decisions which led to the goal. Robin Lehner, who had played a strong game to this point, ultimately made a very strange decision and poor read prior to Bjugstad chipping the tying goal home.
This is the first goalie review in some time as Buffalo’s run over the last few weeks has featured mostly straightforward play. Both Lehner and Anders Nilsson have continued to play very well and the goals they’re being beaten on aren’t too complicated. So the lack of really in-depth plays to review (and the lack of quality replays in some cases) has led to the absence. However, Bjugstad’s goal on Tuesday featured a number of breakdowns, including the goaltender.
Everything builds from Zach Bogosian’s odd decision to kick the puck around the wall to Dmitri Kulikov. Bogosian’s options in retrieving the dump in include attempting to kick the puck forward or to play it on his backhand as there is approaching pressure. Why he didn’t attempt to either play the puck on his backhand or pull the puck off the boards and make a bank pass to Kulikov is beyond me. He doesn’t get nearly enough steam on the puck when he kicks it and that allows Jaromir Jagr to close on Kulikov far faster than he would have if the puck was passed properly.
Kulikov is quickly stripped of the puck as Jagr closes him down expertly behind the net. On replay it’s painfully obvious that Kulikov is left waiting for the puck to come to him while Florida’s forecheck bears down on him. It’s an awkward play which he didn’t manage very well as Jagr’s takeaway is relatively effortless.
The reverse angle seems to show Kulikov trying to get the puck to Matt Moulson on the left wing boards. In hindsight, Bogosian could have played a hard rim around to Moulson and avoided this whole mess.
Now the Sabres are in trouble and Kulikov follows what is likely his first instinct and chases Jagr in an attempt to retrieve the puck. However, as the play develops, Jagr enters Jack Eichel’s space and the Buffalo center also begins to push out to pressure the puck. This leaves both Eichel and Kulikov watching the puck (Moulson too) while Sasha Barkov is given acres of space to fill inside the dot.
Buffalo’s coverage simply gets worse from here as Barkov wisely floats towards the hash marks and presents Jagr a target to hit with a pass. At this point Moulson has sunk even lower and there are three Sabres covering one Panther.
Jagr floats the puck through to Barkov, creating a two-on-one down low. This is a difficult situation for both Bogosian and Lehner as Bjugstad is parked on the crease and Barkov becomes a threat to shoot in a dangerous area.
This is where Bogosian makes his second critical error in attempting to split the two attacking players on the crease. He allows Bjugstad to release but doesn’t put himself in a position to effectively eliminate Barkov’s pass. The end result is Bogosian almost sitting on top of his goaltender on his knees with two Panthers free to make whatever play they want.
Watching at full speed my first instinct was to question Lehner’s decision making as he’s ultimately sprawled on his chest with little chance of making the save. The replays show the Bogosian may have impacted him more than I first thought as you can see him making contact with his goaltender prior to Barkov making the pass.
So it’s conceivable to think that Bogosian may have hurt Lehner’s chances of making this save as he was so far back to the crease that he wasn’t doing anything but preventing his goalie from making a play on the puck.
However, Lehner still drops his blocker to a paddle down position pretty early, selling out on Barkov as a shooter and ignoring the back door threat. This eventually leaves him off balance an unable to recover as Bjugstad simply out waits him.
My take on this play is that Lehner expected Bogosian to remain with Bjugstad and allow Barkov the mini-breakaway. By eliminating Bjugstad from the play, Lehner would have been able to play Barkov one-on-one as opposed to needing to make a read on when and where a pass might come. By eliminating exactly no one, Bogosian only served to get in Lehner’s way, for the most part, creating a second option for Barkov outside of taking a shot. Bogosian actually goes from having good body position on Bjugstad to providing no defensive support whatsoever in a matter of seconds on this play.
We obviously can’t say for sure that’s what Lehner was expecting from Bogosian or if that is even the in-zone read for Buffalo’s players to make on a regular basis. The old addage is that the goalie gets the shooter on a two-on-one. While this wasn’t a traditional two-on-one it seems to me that the old axiom would have served both Bogosian and Lehner well.
Lehner’s save selection is still perplexing, however. He seems to drop to paddle down when plays break down (OT in Calgary, for example). I’m not sure if it’s something of a subconscious, in case of emergency type fall back, or if he’s simply more comfortable in that position on an in-tight play. In this case he sold the move early enough to allow Barkov to dish across the crease and given that Lehner was so sold on Barkov as a shooter, he simply wasn’t able to recover. I do believe Bogosian’s butterfly attempt affected Lehner getting over as you can see his right leg stands in the way of Lehner’s blocker and stick. Either way, Lehner was far enough behind the play for that not to matter that much. His posture was far enough forward that he wasn’t going to get across the crease to make a proper save attempt.
Obviously Lehner’s continued struggles in the shootout simply magnifies the breakdowns on this play, as the Sabres were ever so close to taking two vital points in regulation. While he wasn’t able to get the job done in the shootout once again, this play is where things finally fell apart for Buffalo earlier this week.