It’s Not Housley
by Kevin Sylvester, Buffalo Sports Page
The Sabres are a full month into their season and it’s fair to say that it’s been a disappointing one so far. Okay, it’s been shockingly bad. The team is last in the Eastern Conference with 10 points (Florida has a game in hand). You don’t need analytics to figure it out, but if you’d like to dive in, the NHL website (http://www.nhl.com/stats/) gives you many options and numbers to run. If you watch the team play, you’ll notice they don’t control the puck enough, teams get deep on them, but most of all, the goaltending has been poor.
Robin Lehner was the reason I thought this team would contend for a wildcard spot. His save percentage was just outside the top 10 last season, and every NHL goaltending guru I’ve talked with over the years points at that stat as the mark of good goaltending. Goals against, to me, is more of a team stat. Both Lehner and Chad Johnson are well over 3 per game (Lehner 3.25, Johnson 3.84). The save percentage is the concern. Lehner’s save percentage is .896, and Chad Johnson’s’ is worse at .878. Those rank 38th and 46th in the NHL right now. That’s why this team has only 10 points and sits at the bottom of the conference.
It’s easy to say the team stinks, but it’s too early to bag the season. While the team is in last place in the Eastern Conference, just 6 points separates them from a wild card spot. Robin Lehner can play better. He proved that last year, and has shown flashes of it this year too. He’s also playing on a one year deal, a historical motivator for many players.
The team can also play better. We can point fingers at many players, but as a group, they need to play with more grit and heart. And that means everyone. Players don’t ever like hearing that, but there have been too many games this early on where they’ve looked like they were going through the motions and not competing. That’s what got Dan Bylsma canned. The players have to prove it wasn’t the coach.
November will be a great month to climb out of the basement. Seven of their next 11 games are on home ice. There are some tough matchups in there, as both Tampa Bay and Columbus come for a visit. The games against Washington, Florida, Carolina, Minnesota, and Edmonton are reasonable chances for home ice victories. The biggest challenge of the four remaining road games is in Pittsburgh, with a trip to Detroit, and two in Montreal. The bottom line, the Sabres have a chance at a winning month if they can win 6 out of the next 11 games. Sounds like a tall task. We’ll see if they’re tall goalie is up for it.