The Buffalo Sabres finished up preseason play on Friday with a disappointing 6-4 loss at the hands of the Columbus Blue Jackets.
Though most people wouldn’t feel too bad about a preseason loss, especially a two-goal one, when you take into account that Columbus played a lineup featuring mostly AHL players against the likely opening-night lineup of the Sabres, questions start to pop up. Two of those questions involve the team’s defensive corps and its starting goaltender.
Though it wasn’t the case for most of the preseason, Buffalo’s defense seemed more like traffic cones against Columbus. Far too often they were caught standing around just looking rather than playing a body or the puck. In fact, it took just one period of play for all six defensemen in the lineup to be on the ice for a goal against.
The Sabres did come to life in the third period with four goals on 18 shots, but they just couldn’t overcome the awful first two periods of the game. And while the offensive production of the team remained solid, it’s hard not to be concerned with the back end of things.
The signing of Cody Franson before the start of camp was seen as a move to solidify the defense, but the players — Josh Gorges and Zach Bogosian out of the lineup due to injury — on the ice just seemed to have issues when it came to sticking with the puck and keeping it away from the net.
“The ease of which we have given them up is more of a concern,” head coach Dan Bylsma said of how many goals his team has given up during preseason play. “You’re going to give up goals. You’re going to give up powerplay goals against, but the ease of which we gave them up…that’s the concern of how we’re playing.”
With as many problems as the defense had during the preseason, goaltending could be viewed as the biggest of the two question marks.
Robin Lehner was brought in to be the future between the pipes for the Sabres, but the 24-year old has been inconsistent while getting back into the groove of things after not playing since February.
In three appearances, he has allowed 11 goals on 95 shots. The .884 save percentage for four games isn’t the worst, but it’s definitely not a number that screams confidence in the net. Still, there is a question as to how much of the problem is Lehner, and how much is the team play in front of him.
“I’d like to put it on Robin, but I can’t,” head coach Dan Byslma said regarding the defense’s lapses during the preseason finale. “It was too easy in a lot of areas.”
That being said, Lehner admitted that he needs to be better in the net, especially when making his reads on the puck. Even though he hasn’t played at the level he demands of himself, Lehner doesn’t view the shakiness of the preseason as a cause for concern moving forward.
“We’ve seen how we can play,” Lehner said. “We just got to tighten up a little bit, and work on the details. I got to still work on some of my details, and keep practicing. Keep practicing, and staying positive.
“I’m not worried,” he said.
The Sabres have five days to prepare for their season-opening tilt against the Ottawa Senators. With the offense playing at a high level for the majority of the preseason, it’s going to come down to the back end of the lineup to really determine just how successful this team will be in 2016.
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.