Sabres embarrassed at home to Stars, 7-1

January 20, 2018

There are losses, there are stinkers and then there are games where one team simply doesn’t show up. Sabres fans were witness to all three this afternoon as Buffalo fell to the Dallas Stars 7-1 in what might be the low point of the year.

When the Sabres went down early against the New York Rangers on Thursday night they were quick to bounce back, showing some real backbone and resiliency. This afternoon we saw something a bit different, a full-on meltdown.

It took all of five minutes for the Stars to get things going. A mad scramble in front of Robin Lehner had the Sabres confused while Remi Ellie scooped up the loose puck and fired it into the wide open net.

There was a lot of blame to go around for this goal but ultimately it comes down to some really poor rebound control from Lehner.

It’s a little hard to pick up the puck in this image but Lehner winds up kicking it right to the oncoming Dallas attacker on the far right. It’s literally the last place you want to be sending rebounds if you’re a goaltender. The whole play spiraled downhill after that.

Sending that juicy rebound right onto the stick of the Dallas skater forced Jake McCabe to abandon his mark in an attempt to seal off the yawning cage left unattended by Lehner, who was essentially out to lunch.

From that point on neither he nor McCabe could recover in time to get back in position, leaving Ellie a wide open net for the 1-0 lead.

With just under 6 minutes to go, the Stars cashed in on a power play opportunity thanks to a goal from Mattias Janmark.

Once again, this is just brutal rebound control from Lehner. It’s almost a perfect pad to tape pass, and although Lehner does get across in time, the puck manages to squeak by him. That’s probably a shot he’d want to have back.

Lehner’s rough afternoon would continue in the second period as Janmark would pick up his second of the game off the rush.

Justin Falk is perhaps a little too slow to keep up with Janmark here but this is another goal that Lehner has to have. The shot is almost somewhat of a changeup but the reaction has to be a lot better to what would be considered a low danger shot.

The Sabres would finally get one back on the man advantage as a scorching shot from Eichel rings off the bar and falls to Reinhart who makes no mistake on the rebound.

Much like on Thursday versus the Rangers, the puck movement on the power play was pretty good on that goal. Ristolainen does a good job drawing his man out of position and setting up Eichel for a nice shot. Reinhart does his thing in front of the net and is rewarded with a goal, his third point in two games.

The excitement was short lived as it took the Stars just forty seconds to regain their three goal lead thanks to a deflection by captain Jamie Benn.

This is excellent puck movement from the Stars, particularly from the defensemen. They get the Sabres skaters chasing throughout the whole play and Klingberg lets a good wrister go from the blue line with traffic in front. The goal would end Lehner’s night; he surrendered 4 goals on 19 shots.

Chad Johnson would come on in relief and, well, he didn’t fare any better. On just his third shot faced, Esa Lindell would get one through traffic for his fifth of the year, giving the Stars a 5-1 lead.

The Sabres’ inability to defend off the rush has been one of the most disappointing aspects of the season and today it was on fully display. Here’s a look at the play just before Lindell gets the puck.

Three Sabres up high swarm to one side of the ice, all chasing the puck instead of covering their man. As the Dallas broadcast pointed out, Housley seems to want to defend man on man but it’s easy pickings for the Stars because the Sabres just don’t have the personnel to execute that sort of defense. Benoit Pouliot is the last man into the Sabres zone and, much like the other night against the Rangers, he’s caught chasing the puck instead of watching his guy.

Lindell winds up getting all kinds of time and space to simply waltz in. By the time Okposo can cover for Pouliot it’s simply too late.

The onslaught didn’t stop there as roughly five minutes later a knuckleball point shot from Stephen Johns (that wound up breaking his stick) gets deflected by Radek Faksa in front of the net to give the Stars a commanding 6-1 lead.

It’s a nice deflection from the young forward but Johnson doesn’t react well to the shot. Gorges does well to stay with Faksa but doesn’t do enough to tie up Faksa’s stick to prevent the deflection.

The Stars would go on to add one more for good measure as Klingberg’s shot from the point is deflected just outside the slot by Tyler Pitlick for his eighth of the year.

There just wasn’t enough being done by Larsson on that goal to tie up Pitlick’s stick, and the change in direction fooled Johnson.

The 7-1 loss exposed a lot of key issues for the Sabres, ranging from stability in the net all the way to perhaps issues with the coaching staff.

The Stars controlled most of the play 5v5 finishing the game with a Corsi For % of 58.11 to 41.89 and nearly doubled the Sabres in expected goals for at 1.44 to 0.77. Considering the score line, the expected goals numbers seem rather low and, while there’s plenty of debate on how it’s weighted, a number this low relative to the score line can often be reflected by poor goaltending. This matches up with the eye test as both Lehner and Johnson struggled all night. Lehner had trouble with his rebound control and Johnson just couldn’t react quick enough to scoring chances coming his way.

The matchup chart tells the same story. The Stars manhandled the Sabres all afternoon in 5v5 play. You have to wonder how much more can be tolerated before some kind of shakeup is required.

Other notes:

January has not been kind to Lehner. After a string of quality starts in December, Lehner has posted an .869 save percentage and has allowed three or more goals in all but one of his starts so far in the new year. With Ullmark posting great numbers in Rochester, this year could be Lehner’s last as a Sabre, at the very least as a starter.

It’s also perhaps time to end the Pouliot experiment. He was an ideal low risk signing and has provided some value offensively, but the defensive play (or lack thereof) is really starting to hinder his value to the team. Look for him to be moved for a draft pick or prospect on deadline day.

With his assist on Reinhart’s goal, Ristolainen now has nine points in his last nine games. Not entirely coincidentally, the Sabres power play has clicked recently as well, converting on three of their last eight opportunities. The puck movement has been a lot better and the primary facilitator of that has been Ristolainen. He seems to be feeling it offensively lately. Perhaps that will translate to a more successful Buffalo power play going forward.

Michael Ghofrani
About Michael Ghofrani

Michael Ghofrani has been working on finding hockey statistics that can break down and explain certain game events. He's also a Sabres follower from Toronto doing his best to fend off Leafs Nation.

Browse more articles by Michael Ghofrani.

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