To say the start of the season for the Buffalo Sabres has been less than ideal is as obvious a statement as you could make. The team is 2-6 through eight games, and just simply haven’t had the results that many expected coming into the year after finishing last in back-to-back seasons.
While scoring is a big problem — the team has scored more than two goals in just two games — fingers could be pointed at the team’s goaltending for the problem.
After starter Robin Lehner was hurt in the team’s opening game against Ottawa, the Sabres have had to rely on Chad Johnson between the pipes. Now, he hasn’t been poor for Buffalo. In fact, he’s kept the Sabres in a number of games, and was even a key reason for the team’s victory against the Toronto Maple Leafs last week. However, he does have a goals against average above a three, and a save percentage of .896.
Those types of numbers, unless your team is putting up four-to-five goals per game, isn’t going to win many games in this league. But despite the team being near the bottom of the league in terms of goals against, coach Dan Bylsma says there has been no discussions about adding another netminder to the roster.
“We have not talked about it,” Bylsma said about adding a goaltender. “Up until yesterday (Friday) when we gave up seven goals, every game we played with Johnny in net gave us a chance to win. There’s no question about that. Us not winning is not because we didn’t get good goaltending.
“It’s not a road we’ve gone down,” he said.
The team did start rookie Linus Ullmark against New Jersey on Saturday. He played well, but it was definitely noticeable that he was a 22-year old kid making his first NHL start. He has potential, and it has Bylsma confident in the position after seeing just one game of his.
“He looked like an NHL goalie,” he said.
The Sabres are likely going to be without Lehner until December or January, at the earliest, which could lead to problems down the line if the team doesn’t begin to put the puck in the net more. Buffalo wasn’t going to ascend to Stanley Cup contention just one season after the “tank”, but they were expected to be improved.
While the statistics show they they are, in fact, better than at any point last year, the results just aren’t there. One has to wonder just how long will this go on before some sort of roster move, whether it be with goaltending or a different position, is made.
Michael is a former Managing Editor for The Hockey Writers. He’s covered the Buffalo Sabres, along with the NHL in general, for various outlets since 2009. His work has been featured on outlets such as Yahoo, Sports Illustrated and Fox Sports.