Reprinted with permission from hockeybuzz.com
When Buffalo goaltender Robin Lehner got angry after allowing the first goal of the game by Detroit's Dylan Larkin, one had to wonder if his frustration was directed exclusively at himself or more broadly at how the team in front of him was playing.
The Sabres and the Red Wings had been going at it for over 50 minutes with neither team able to break through. The ice had been decidedly tilted towards Buffalo's end for the lion's share of the game and Lehner had to stand tall just to keep Buffalo in it. It was as frustrating Sabres fans as it was for Lehner as the lead-in to Larkin's eventual game-winner in the 3-0 shutout by Detroit. In an all to familiar scenario a Buffalo player was sent to the penalty box for a double-minor, the Sabres killed it off but they would get scored upon not long after.
Marcus Foligno clipped Larkin with a high stick in the Buffalo crease, drew blood and the Sabres were facing the prospect of shutting down a pretty potent Red Wings powerplay for four minutes. What Foligno was doing in that instance is questionable as the force of his upward stick movement could've lofted a hay bale 20 feet in the air. But off he went to the box.
It was the type of game last night where it looked as if one goal was all that was needed and that ended up being the case. With Buffalo still catching their breathe after killing off the four-minute penalty, Larkin converted on a hustle play that went in off of a sliding Lehner's pad. Later in the third period Larkin's set up linemate Henrik Zetterberg with a backdoor pass and the Wings captain put them up 2-0 with under three minutes to go. An empty-netter by Luke Glendening gave us the final score.
Lehner was a duck in a shooting gallery last night. He stopped 42 of 44 shots (.955 save percentage) on his way to being named the game's third star. This was his third game back since recovering from a high ankle sprain and his record reads 0-3-0. He's faced 103 shots total in those three games and stopped 96 of them for a .932 SV %. He's allowed just over two goals per game, but the Sabres have scored a grand total of two goals with him in net.
Buffalo has had trouble scoring this season (2.23 g/gm, 29th in the league) and it probably didn't help matters that AHL veteran Cal O'Reilly was called up from Rochester after Sam Reinhart went down with an injury. With all due respect to O'Reilly, being in a top-six role with the big club was a bit of a stretch for him. The 29 yr. old, former 5th-round pick (2005) has totaled 116 NHL games in his career managing 13 goals.
I get it when it comes to O'Reilly. He's the older brother of Ryan O'Reilly who at this point in the season is the Sabres MVP. Cal was signed by Buffalo to a two-year, one-way, $1.4M contract just before Ryan was signed to his 7-year, $52.5M contract extension. Cal has been playing well in Rochester and is second on the team in scoring but has only four goals.
His recall coupled with that of Phil Varone alleviated the log-jam of veterans over in Rochester. At one point the Amerks were forced to sit two veterans every game because they were maxed out on a rule that states two-thirds of the skaters must be composed of "developmental players," those who have appeared in 260 or fewer professional regular season games.
I get that as well. The Amerks were in Grand Rapids last night playing the Griffins (DET) and had a full compliment of veterans playing in that game. They won 5-3.
Yet, it would have been nice to see one of Buffalo's two right wing prospects get the call. Both Justin Bailey (2013, 52nd-overall) and Nicolas Baptiste (2013, 69th) have top-nine NHL potential and have been playing well in their rookie AHL seasons. Or even call up Evan Rodrigues who rode shot-gun on Jack Eichel's wing last season at Boston University. Rodrigues isn't exactly tearing it up with 15 points (5+10) in 39 games, but he's adapted to the pro-level and one might imagine that Eichel would welcome a familiar face on his line, one who knows where to be.
We're just past the half-way point of the season with the All-Star break a week away. The young, inconsistent Sabres are doing what most thought they'd be doing--alternating between great games and not so great games. Last night was not so great.
The trade deadline is coming up in five weeks and much will get sorted out before then, but until that hits, it looks as if peaks and valleys are what we'll be dealing with.
Let's just hope Lehner gets a win by then.