After what has seemed like an eternity, the Sabres played the kind of game that we fans have been waiting for last night. They played hard for 60 minutes, threw the body around and had the goaltending that is needed to make that kind of an effort from the skaters stand up. I have to say it, the reason that this team has looked better in the last two weeks is Robin Lehner.
Earlier in the season, the goaltending, as it has been for the last few years since Lehner has been the starter, was inadequate to put it nicely. He was constantly out of position, not standing tall in the net, not covering his posts and the defense was not helping out in front of him. He has been very good recently and I am not exactly sure what the reason for the change in his play has been. I think it is a combination of some of our better defensemen like Bogosian returning and also that he is playing bigger in the net. His problem is when he wanders too far out of the net and gives up easy goals like he almost did in the first last night. He way over committed to the left and left the whole right side of the net open. Luckily Bobby Ryan couldn’t get a touch on it and it stayed out of the net. These are the maddening types of plays that make me scream at the TV. However, he recovered and played a solid game. On the road trip he was good too, and we lost a couple of overtime games that could have gone either way and weren’t all his fault- he could have had a shutout last night. If Pomminville ties up the guy’s stick there, he isn’t able to get his own rebound and hit the open net- not Lehner’s fault. The second one was however. Ottawa had the puck at the top of the zone and had a guy in front of the net. Instead of finding the puck and getting into position, Lehner was trying to push the guy by jabbing him in the back with his blocker. There’s no need for this extracurricular crap from him; he needs to keep his hot-head persona in check. After he pushes the guy, he is late getting back into the net and is screened on the shot from the point which beats him far side under his blocker. That’s not a good play and he needs to be more composed in the net. However, he has looked better the last couple weeks and I think that has been reflected in the team’s work ethic and performances.
A couple other takeaways: Jordan Nolan had some strong plays last night and some weak ones. He absolutely destroyed Bobby Ryan behind the net in the third with a big clean body check that you could hear on TV. Ryan had his head down and you don’t want to do that when Nolan is on the ice. The bad play was a weak hooking penalty he took in the middle of the ice. Instead of skating hard on the back-check he made a lazy hook. All in all though, he had a positive game. Benoit Poulliot made a nice play to score and has looked a lot more comfortable recently. His contributions have definitely made an impact and it’s good to see. Okposo and O’reilly had a nice combination play behind the net and O’Reilly hesitated on his pass just enough to squeeze it between two defenders’ sticks for Kyle’s finish. Great play. Kane had another goal and has looked like the All-Star he is. He is definitely increasing his trade value and it is looking like he will be moved before the deadline. Hopefully, Botterill will be able to exact an appropriate haul for him if he does decide to move him.
A few weeks ago, I was invited to attend the Canisius vs. Niagara hockey game at Dwyer Arena on the Niagara University campus. The game was this past Friday and I am glad that I went to see it. Canisius and Niagara are two of the top teams in not just the
American Atlantic (edited) Hockey Conference, but in the nation. They played a very competitive match in the first sellout at Dwyer arena since 2013. The game was back and forth with Niagara taking an early lead, Canisius equalizing twice and taking the lead with 9:40 left in the third, and then Canisius finally sealing the win with an empty net goal with under 1 minute to play. Both teams are on the rise and are near locks to be playing in the post season. I encourage everyone to go and take in a local college hockey game, you won’t be disappointed.
Our next matchup is Thursday at Philly and then we have three in a row at home. Now is the time to go on a run and win a few in a row. We are not out of it by any means and if we keep playing hard nosed smart hockey and get solid goaltending, we can move up in the standings.