Robin Lehner keeps putting up the numbers at home. Too bad his teammates don't put up many at the other end of the ice.
At least in KeyBank Center, the Buffalo Sabres are wasting a ton of good work by their No. 1 goaltender this season.
Lehner stopped 30 of 31 shots Tuesday night but got zero reward yet again in a 3-0 loss to the Boston Bruins that got spread out by two empty-net goals in the final two minutes. The Sabres' shooters, meanwile, went 0 for 36 against Boston backup Anton Khudobin – who had given up eight goals on just 35 shots over his last two games.
Lehner is 4-7-1 at home in 13 appearances this season, a record that belies some monster stats downtown.
Lehner is a convenient target for the catcall crowd but this season down the drain rests on the head of the NHL's worst offense. What more can Lehner do? At home, he's got a 1.94 goals against average and .935 save percentage.
Get this: Among goaltenders who have played at least 300 minutes at home, Lehner leads the NHL in GAA and is tied with Washington's Braden Holtby in save percentage. (Full disclosure item: On the road is where Lehner has been battered a couple of times, leaving him at 3-7-3, 3.60, .896).
Coach Phil Housley routinely uses the baseball analogy about a lack of "run support" for Lehner. The big guy is totally like the one starting pitcher in a rotation who gets no help.
"I'm not trying to worry about anything else other than my game," Lehner said. "My job is to save the pucks and that's pretty much it. Try to give us a chance to win and I'm working on it every day trying to get better and better. It's tough not winning. You look at the last stretch of games I've been playing. Not many wins at all (2-5-2) but I feel like I've been playing pretty darn well."
The Sabres are averaging a paltry 1.55 goals in Lehner's 11 home starts. All four of their shutouts against this season have come with Lehner in net, three of them at home. Overall, this was the 10th time in a Lehner start Buffalo was held to one goal or blanked.
"It's unfortunate because Lenny played an excellent game. A very good game," said winger Benoit Pouliot. "He kept us in it the whole time. For us to pay him back, we've got to put some pucks in the net. We had our chances. it's just a matter of finishing."
Jake DeBrusk burned Lehner with a perfect snapshot under the crossbar from the right circle at 10:14 of the second period and that's all the offense Boston would need. DeBrusk bolted around Jason Pominville and his laser burned both Marco Scandella and Lehner.
"It was a good shot," Lehner said. "Players in this league are going to score once in a while and that's one of them."
The Sabres fell to 8-19-7 overall. They're 1-2-3 in their last six games, 2-6-3 in the last 11 and just 3-11-5 in the last 19.
Eight players had at least three shots on goal in the game for Buffalo. Evander Kane, Jack Eichel and Rasmus Ristolainen had four apiece. The Sabres had plenty of puck possession, with 63 shot attempts and a 36-22 mark on faceoffs.
But they don't create enough traffic to get deflections in front of the net and don't have enough touch to finish in tight. Pouliot and Kyle Okposo blew a 2-on-1 in the second period, with Pouliot eventually getting too deep to the net and putting the puck wide.
"I messed up my pass to him too and kind of caught him off guard," Pouliot said. "Then he tried to go back to me and I missed my shot. I should have made a better play at the beginning and I should have finished too."
The Sabres have just 15 goals in the first period all season. That's seven fewer than any other NHL team has in any period. They had 17 shots on goal in the opening 20 minutes on this night but never sustained that kind of work again.
"I think we had a real good first period, got pucks deep, were playing fast and we did a lot of good things," Lehner said. "They got a little bit of momentum there at the end of the first period and it seemed to take them into the second."
What got under Housley's skin was the way the Sabres got away from what made them successful in the first period. Their puck management eroded and the Bruins started to make more plays.
"The simple game was there," Housley said. "OK, we didn't score but that's not a time going into the second period where you change. You've got to stick to the game plan and eventually you'll break through. ... We're cracking. You look at Boston's game. The reason why they've had some success recently is they're sticking to the game plan and staying true to their structure."
What game plan do the Sabres have? Hard to tell at times because it so rarely results in any goals.