Ineffective offense, especially on the power play, and injuries on defense have plagued the Buffalo Sabres all season. At least the other facet of their game is getting shored up.
Buffalo goaltenders Robin Lehner and Chad Johnson combined to give up just five goals in the three games last week, which added to the frustration of a 1-1-1 stretch. Johnson, in particular, had one of his strongest games of the season in Saturday's 2-1 overtime loss in Montreal.
"We played a good game and we were right there to get two points out of the night," Johnson said after the game in Bell Centre. "It's just frustrating to not get the number of wins that we'd like but it's hockey and we've just got to regroup and take the positives out of this game."
Starter Robin Lehner was solid in Tuesday's 3-1 win over Washington and gave up only two goals in Friday's 4-1 loss to Florida that saw the Panthers score a pair of empty-netters to seal the deal. Throw in Johnson's 27-save performance Saturday and the Buffalo tandem compiled a 1.65 goals-against average and .940 save percentage for the week by stopping 78 of 83 shots.
Breaking down the net numbers for the season, however, tells a tale of very uneven play from all players on the ice. Overall, the Sabres are 27h in the league in goals-against and 29th in save percentage at just .888.
Lehner is 4-6-1, 2.90/.905 and has a ledger featuring huge disparities between home and road play. In KeyBank Center, Lehner is 2-2-1, 1.49/.952. But on the road, he's 2-4, 4.53/.848 and got pulled early in Brooklyn and Dallas.
Johnson is 0-2 at home with very ugly numbers (5.48 and .855). He's much better on the road, at 1-1-2, 2.96/.897. And while Johnson hasn't been victimized by many bad goals, he's been frustrated by not helping his team out with a few more saves. Heading into saturday, he had given up 13 goals in his previous three starts.
"He was really good tonight," said Buffalo defenseman Nathan Beaulieu. "He was probably our best player. It sucks. You feel for him and for everyone else in the room."
Charting the Buffalo Sabres' goaltenders so far this season
W-L-O/GAA/Sv. % W-L-O/GAA/Sv. %
Overall 4-6-1/2.90/.905 1-3-2/3.55/.885
Home 2-2-1/1.49/.952 0-2-0/5.48/.855
Road 2-4-0/4.53/.848 1-1-2/2.96/.897
The goaltending question will be a seasonlong storyline to watch, with both players on one-year contracts and aiming for their next deal.
"I want to have great numbers and that's what it's all about in this league unfortunately," Johnson said. "But I've felt good about my games. They've been tough games with good scoring chances guys have capitalized on. .. I want to be able to make those saves. I've felt good about my game, which is hard to say sometimes when you're giving up four or five. You have to really be honest with yourself positive or negative regardless of the score."
Johnson stopped Alex Galchenyuk on a breakaway in the first two minutes Saturday, with the Sabres still fragile in the wake of Friday's clunker. It seemed to give the team life and Buffalo went on to outshoot the Canadiens, 16-7, in the first period. Early in the third period, Johnson stopped former Sabre Paul Byron on another clear break a few seconds after Andrew Shaw had scored the tying goal.
"Chad was excellent," said coach Phil Housley "They just get that goal to tie it up and they get a breakaway and he makes a huge save for us. We don't get any points if he doesn't make that save. We can't fault our goaltending. They're giving us a chance to win and hopefully we can give them some run support as we move forward here next week."
Johnson said he could feel the momentum of the game shifting toward the Habs after the shaw goal and was happy to help his team stem the tide and preserve a point.
"Obviously after a goal it's huge the first minute or two," he said. "It's always the most important. I knew the next save was going to be important and it was a breakaway. So I'm happy for making that. If it helped preserve it ... it was positive to get the one point there."
Housley was frustrated that officials took the rare step of huddling in overtime and taking away a high sticking penalty on Montreal center Jonathan Drouin, deciding not to make the call even though they had whistled the play dead.
"We get a penalty called back which was pretty odd that we're calling penalties back now," Housley said. "They said when he followed through on the shot, he was following through. But if you watch it, I disagree because you're in control of your own stick. To me, it was a penalty but it wasn't called."
The Sabres were off on Sunday. They return to practice Monday and then head to Pittsburgh for Tuesday's game against the Penguins in PPG Paints Arena. It will be their first meeting of the season against the two-time defending Stanley Cup champions, who beat Nashville in the Cup final in June when Housley was an assistant coach for the Predators.