Enough with the Self Pity, Sabres

According to statisticians, it happened with 1:09 remaining in regulation. That’s when the New York Islanders rallied with a goal to tie their game against the Sabres, 2-2.

Not according to Robin Lehner. “Everything is predetermined against us,” Lehner said after the game in Barclays Center. “I know Toronto already made up their mind it was a goal before they shot the puck. It’s just how it works in this league.”

Sabres bench
Different year, same result. The Sabres are once again in the league’s basement. (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

The Non-Controversial Play

The goal came with the Islanders goalie pulled for the extra attacker. After a terrible giveaway by the Sabres’ Zach Bogosian to Isles captain and four-time All-Star, John Tavares, Tavares skated around Ryan O’Reilly, deked past Zemgus Girgensons, then made a nifty cross-ice pass to Josh Bailey, who ripped a shot that Lehner caught in his outstretched glove.

It was a miraculous stop, even if the puck crossed the goal line. The play continued for 35 seconds before referees stopped it as off-ice officials in Toronto indicated it was a goal. Video review revealed Lehner’s glove caught the puck behind the goal line. It was ruled a good goal.

Yet Another Loss for the Sabres

The Sabres lost the game in overtime on a goal by Islanders’ rookie phenom Mathew Barzal. The speedster came off the bench then skated into the zone, blowing by Rasmus Ristolainen and zipping one by Lehner. The loss dropped the Sabres to 9-20-8 on the season. Just eight wins in regulation in 37 games. One doesn’t need a calculator to know that’s awful.

Evander Kane Sabres
Evander Kane is the only consistent scorer for the Sabres. (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

They can say they had a good effort, and they did, for the most part. But the harsh reality once again is they’re in a business where winning matters and they’re not. They found yet another way to lose.

Out to Get Buffalo

Though he obviously had yet to see the goal from a dozen angles in slow motion, for Lehner, it was another example of the league out to get Buffalo.

But the Sabres didn’t lose the game because of a conspiracy theory. They lost the game because they made a careless mistake to one of this season’s highest-scoring teams and let it get away from them. So, enough with the self-pity.

Lehner was a minute away from an impressive road win and wound up with a loss. The steely-eyed goalie was fuming after the game and spoke his mind. “It’s not to be sulking or anything. We’re not where we want to be or anything like that. It’s just how it is. It’s just how it is. The Islanders are in a playoff spot, and it is what it is. I guess it’s something in Buffalo waters, you know,” said Lehner in a fired-up mood.

Price Break

He recalled a game on Nov. 25 in Montreal when Sabres left wing Evander Kane scored in the final minute to end a shutout bid by goalie Carey Price. Officials denied the goal, determining that forward Sam Reinhart made contact with the goalie before the puck crossed the line late in the third period. The Sabres lost, 3-0.

“We scored a good goal, and the league kind of takes it away,” Lehner said. “It’s a good goal. They take it away, he gets a shutout. It’s just how the league works. It’s unfortunate.”

No Finish

As much as this game appears to be Lehner’s indoctrination to becoming a True Buffalonian, Bailey’s goal did, in fact, cross the line.

Lehner has been playing really well lately. The team in front of him hasn’t. The Sabres had several quality chances in the third period and in overtime, but couldn’t put one away. They have as much finish as a sheet of plywood.

Rasmus Ristolainen
Rasmus Ristolainen was turned inside-out on the OT winner. (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

He’s best to direct his anger toward his teammates who let him down. Ristolainen was turned inside out on the game-winning, overtime goal. Jordan Nolan missed a breakaway. Kane had his chances. Where’s Jack Eichel when you need him?

Inconsistent Calls

Losing is frustrating. Losing four out of five games consistently can be disheartening. We all have our breaking points. But to blame this loss on officiating is wrong.

Like it or not, video replay is part of the game. If Lehner has a point, it’s that there’s very little consistency on what goaltender interference is. And he’s not the only one to have a call not go his way.

Lehner is not the reason this team is as woeful as it is. He’s been the best or second-best player on the team nearly every game he’s played. There are enough underachievers on this team to count them on hands and feet.