Published by hockeybuzz.com, 3-5-2017
Win or lose, for the most part Sabres goalie Robin Lehner will be in the locker room post-game taking questions. In a win he'll direct praise towards his team mates while in a loss he'll direct the blame mostly towards himself. In fact there's only one time recently were he exploded in a loss and directed most of his ire towards his team mates. The team responded with a three-game winning streak but typically followed that up with a four-game winless streak.
Lehner is the clear-cut No. 1 goalie in Buffalo. With him in net the team always has a chance to win the game. That is, until we get past regulation and the 3-on-3 overtime session for the shootout. The Sabres have been avoiding the shootout since a December 20 loss to the Florida Panthers. In between Buffalo has gone to overtime seven times and come away with a 4-0-3 record. With the loss last night they're now 1-6 in the skills competition.
The shootout stats are just mind-boggling for Lehner and they're not much better for Buffalo's shooters either. In fact Buffalo's shooters have the third worst shooting percentage in the league (17.6%) scoring only three goals on 17 attempts. Last night Sam Reinhart got confused and couldn't even get a shot off while Jack Eichel came up with an average at best attempt. Reinhart was one of only two Sabres players to score in the shootout this year, the other being Cal O'Reilly who's in Rochester. All the rest, which includes Eichel (2 attempts,) Kyle Okposo (5,) Ryan O'Reilly (2,) and Brian Gionta (1) have come up empty.
Perhaps the shooters are feeling extra pressure because the Sabres netminders have the worst save percentage in the league at .250. Buffalo backup Anders Nilsson, who has the team's only shootout win this year, has stopped four of eight shootout attempts while Lehner hasn't stopped any shot in eight attempts.
And that's the crazy part of it. Eight goals-against on eight shots with not one player either mishandling the puck, shooting wide or ever so slightly missing his spot. Every shot against Lehner goes where it's intended to go.
Last night Lehner was the victim of a brilliant shot by Tampa's Brayden Point on the first shootout attempt as the rookie, who came into the game scoring on four of six attempts, went low glove-side for the goal. After Eichel was stymied at the other end, the Lightning's Nikita Kucherov pulled off some wizardry as he got the puck moving towards the net and faked as if he was going backhand. The puck, moving like a curling stone, continued on it's slow trajectory towards the net and with Lehner following Kucherov looking for a backhand, it went five hole as Lehner looked to the sky in disbelief.
Check it out via Samboke on YouTube:
That's a filthy goal and it's tough being on the wrong end of it.
It will end sometime as the odds will eventually catch up, but until then it's frustrating and probably embarrassing for Lehner. You can tell he hates that portion of the game, "It's not hockey you're watching," he told the gathered media post-game, "they've got all the time in the world to go fast or slow down. On breakaways they come at one speed. Maybe I have problems adjusting to the speed changes.
"It is what is."
Lehner can take this to heart, once the team eventually makes it into the playoffs, there will be no shootout and no need to worry about it. Unfortunately, in order to get to the post season a team must win in the regular season and shootouts, as we know, are a big part of that.
The Sabres are in Pittsburgh tonight to take on the Penguins at 5 p.m. on an NHL Network televised game. No word on who will be in goal for Buffalo but perhaps Nilsson gets the start this evening.
In their only meeting of the season, Nilsson stopped 46 shots in regulation and overtime then stymied Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin and Kris Letang in the shootout to help the Sabres get out from under the weight of a three-game losing streak.