The Buffalo Sabres (10-10-6) are home to the Washington Capitals (15-7-3) tonight at the KeyBank Center at 7:00pm. The Capitals beat the Sabres 3-2 in overtime on Monday night and handed them a 3-1 loss last month. Both of those losses came on the road. Buffalo will be looking to turn the tide against Washington at home tonight with Robin Lehner between the pipes.
Lehner has had a solid season posting a .921 save percentage and a 2.41 GAA. Backup goaltender Anders Nilsson has been equally good with his .932 save percentage and a 2.38 GAA. The discrepancy between Buffalo's netminders can be found in their records. Lehner is 5-8-4 on the year while Nilsson is 5-2-2.
Lehner has been struggling to find wins of late, but hasn't given up more than three goals in a game in almost a month. Nilsson has been winning recently, but has been giving up three goals per game. What does all this mean about who should be the goalie tonight?
The idea of ‘riding the hot hand’ has come up a lot recently, and suggests that Nilsson should be starting more games than Lehner because he's been winning.
The question remains: how is a ‘hot hand’ defined? Nilsson has been earning wins in the past few weeks, but is giving up more than three goals per 60 minutes played. He has not been posting shutout after shutout or stopping 95 percent of the shots he's facing; he's just played well. Is his hand really that hot?
Lehner, on the other hand, has been giving up closer to two goals per 60 minutes played in the past few weeks. He's been a solid number one option between the pipes, but due to a lack of scoring support – a low number of goals for in the games he's played in – he's struggled to find himself in the win column.
Is it possible that the Sabres simply score more goals when Nilsson is in net? Is there a correlation between the number of goals a team scores and which goaltender is in the net? That seems far-fetched. It doesn't make sense that the skaters would say, "Because [this goaltender] is in net, we need to score more goals."
Robin Lehner is this team's starting goaltender until he plays poorly enough to lose the job. Thus far, he's been plenty good enough to keep the starting job and deserves the majority of starts; including tonight against the Caps.