The Instigator Podcast 5.29 – Turning the Corner

With a trifecta of impressive wins under their belt – and another near miss – the Sabres are creating some believers in Western New York. While there’s still work to do, it appears the rest of the team has caught up to the impressive play in goal. Chris and Tyler discuss the goaltending debate despite the lack of an actual goalie controversy while also highlighting the impressive play of Evander Kane, Sam Reinhart and Kyle Okposo, among others. Be sure to listen in here or grab the episode on your mobile device and listen on the go.

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The Instigator Podcast 5.27 – Do the Sabres have a Crease Crisis?

With a lot of attention directed to Buffalo’s goal tending as of late, Chris and Tyler spend this week’s podcast discussing the strength shown by Lehner and Nilsson so far this year while also pouring water on the idea that there could be some sort of controversy brewing.

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In Defense of Robin

The NHL season is now exactly two months old, and as the calendar churns towards Christmas the Buffalo Sabres find themselves in a familiar place: looking up at the rest of the Eastern Conference.

While the team is only six points back of third place in the Atlantic Division with a few games in hand, the team needs to start stringing wins together in order to get back into the playoff conversation. As fans and pundits alike look for ways the Sabres can jumpstart their season, many are of the belief that the answer may lie with Anders Nilsson, at least for the time being.

The first year Sabre and fourth year NHLer is enjoying a career renaissance in Buffalo under the tutelage of goalie coach Andrew Allen. Nilsson has compiled a 5-2-2 record with a 2.38 GAA and career high .932 save percentage to date, and many believe the Sabres should stick with him in net while he continues to pile up the impressive numbers.

Robin Lehner would stand to lose playing time as a result of an extended string of starts for Nilsson. Lehner’s stat line isn’t anything to sneeze at either, as he’s posted a 2.44 GAA and .920 save percentage, yet only has a 5-9-4 record to show for it. Continue reading

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. Continue reading

Crease Crash Course: Reflecting on the Sabres Skid

In the absence of the typical post-game breakdowns from the past week, it seemed best to lump everything together as the Sabres have embarked on a course of failure in virtually every aspect of the game.

As the team’s anemic attack continues on their trend of truly becoming One Buffalo, the goaltenders have been left in the precarious position of attempting to keep the ship afloat. As the last week of games has shown, Buffalo’s tandem hasn’t been able to provide the goaltending needed – read: shutouts – to steal points on a nightly basis.

The Sabres incredible inability to score goals has left them wallowing as they’re left expecting perfect goaltending in order to win games. Buffalo have scored 10 goals in eight November games (1.25 goals per game average) and are averaging exactly one per game over this five game losing streak. That leaves each goaltender with a monumental task of trying to pitch a shutout nearly every night. While both have played well, it hasn’t been well enough to lift the struggling forward and defense groups. Continue reading

Crease Crash Course: Back-to-Back Gems from Nilsson and Lehner

The Sabres righted the ship in a big way this weekend, shutting out the Florida Panthers at home and following with a stellar 3-1 win the following day in Winnipeg.

The wins put the Sabres at 3-3-2 on the season and squarely at .500 in points percentage. The latter fact being of particular importance given the absence of Jack Eichel and Evander Kane. Getting out of October at or near .500 was a goal I was personally hoping to see the Sabres achieve. It was looking grim after the third period collapse against Philadelphia that was followed by a lifeless home loss to Minnesota. It’s a shame to think that the team simply needed to stay afloat, especially in a season where the goal prior to training camp was to become a playoff contender, but the timing and impact of those injuries really couldn’t have been much worse.

As November begins the Sabres are yet another week closer to filling out their top six once again and have managed to keep from floating to the bottom of the league standings where making up ground would be nearly impossible.

The play of Anders Nilsson and Robin Lehner had a lot to do with this weekend’s pair of victories. Nilsson’s 33-save performance on Saturday looked much more like the strong performance in Philly than it did the bumpy start against Minnesota. Nilsson again played to his size and controlled the game beautifully. He hasn’t gotten himself in trouble with rebounds this season – a common complaint of his partner, as it would be – as he’s shown an impressive ability to swallow up pucks from nearly any location.

Lehner followed Nilsson with an equally impressive outing that would have been a shutout as well had Buffalo not been victimized by a fortunate bounce off the end boards. Lehner’s play on Sunday was hardly his first strong game of the season. He was steady in Buffalo’s win against Edmonton and he carried that on to Vancouver later in that same road trip. A couple of ugly goals against Calgary and the entire team’s lack of effort against Montreal have skewed his play so far, but I feel confident in saying Lehner has been better than many would have you believe in this young season. Continue reading

Crease Crash Course: Early Weak Goal Costs Nilsson

Anders Nilsson’s second game in a Sabres uniform wasn’t nearly as impressive as his first. As the Sabres slept-walked through the first period against Minnesota, ultimately falling 4-0.

Nilsson’s performance included a pair of rough goals on Minnesota’s first and third tallies and only 18 saves. He wasn’t under nearly as much pressure as he faced against Philadelphia and he was ultimately victimized on a two goals that beat him as he was down a touch early on outside shots.

Minnesota’s first goal, scored by Joel Eriksson-Ek was perhaps the more egregious of the two in question. The third Wild goal, off the stick of Ryan Suter found its way through a screen. Nilsson could have played the shot better – and given the score it was certainly a shot that needed to be stopped – but it wasn’t a terrible goal either. Continue reading

Crease Crash Course: Sparking Debut for Nilsson

A developing refrain early on this season is Buffalo’s inability to finish games. A squandered lead in Calgary, the inability to finish in Vancouver and now a third period implosion against Philadelphia.

Outside of the game in Calgary, where a weak goal set the OT loss in motion, Buffalo’s goaltending in these contests has been good, if not great. Even prior to Matthew Tkachuk’s tally, Robin Lehner had enjoyed an impressive performance against the Flames. Last night’s collapse had nothing to do with Anders Nilsson’s 38-save effort, of course. Nilsson’s debut was spectacular at times as he held Philly scoreless for over 40 minutes as Buffalo built an impressive lead. It fell apart in the third, however.

Three power play goals erased the Buffalo lead and a pop-gun effort in overtime led Buffalo to a shootout, where they ultimately failed. Philly’s goals were scored on a tip, one timer and goal mouth scramble and none of the three really qualify for the practice that’s growing with these post-game recaps. However, for a goalie who has been accused of playing small in the past, it looks as if Nilsson’s work in Buffalo is already paying dividends. For that reason (and his generally impressive play last night) we’ll look at what I felt was his best save of the evening. 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