Buffalo Sabres Have Goaltending Battle in Rochester


Former Amerk player and coach Randy Cunneyworth is returning to Rochester. Cunneyworth has his work cut out for him with all the new players coming into the team, but there is a bigger story developing and that is with the goaltenders.

Andrey Makarov and Nathan Lieuwen are about to engage in a goaltending battle that could ultimately decide their fate with the Buffalo Sabres organization.

For Lieuwen and Makarov, this is a statement year. Both will be restricted free agents at the end of the season and it seems as if they will not only be fighting for the #1 job in Rochester but fighting for a spot with the Sabres organization.

After the strong showing at the Sabres Development Camp from Jason Kasdorf, he will definitely be in the mix at the end of the year and for years to come. He has yet to sign an entry level contract, but he definitely will after his senior year at RPI is complete.

Then there is the young Swede, Linus Ullmark.

Ullmark is recovering from offseason hip surgery and there is a good chance he will see time in Elmira, but I don’t see him staying any length of time. Two seasons ago, he was named the SHL Goaltender of the Year.

So, it looks like only one goalie will make it out of this battle. Who will it be?

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Nathan Lieuwen is a solid goaltender, but with his history of head injuries and overall production, the early leader is Andrey Makarov.

Makarov was a key part of the run to the Calder Cup Playoffs the Americans had at the end of the 2013-14 season. He went 7-3-0 with 2.20 GAA and a save percentage of .927. It is not like Lieuwen performed poorly that year, he went 17-11-2 with 2.34 GAA and a save percentage of .922, but he wasn’t around for he playoff run.

On April 6, 2014, against Philadelphia, Nathan Lieuwen was run into and was diagnosed with his fourth concussion since he was 16. He was 22 years old at the time.

The problems for the two really set in during the 2014-15 season.

For Makarov, it was inconsistent play, but let’s remember the team was constantly changing with Sabres injuries and trades that had Amerks called up to go along with the Amerks’ own injury problems. Frankly, the team was a mess and that definitely didn’t help with any goaltending numbers.

For Lieuwen, while he was a victim of a team in shambles, there were more serious problems. There were complications with his latest head injury. He wasn’t having headaches, he was having vision problems.

“He saw the neurologist and he told him: ‘Your brain is not working with your eyes the right way,’ Cassidy said. -Kevin Oklozija via the USA Today

Kevin Oklobzija reported these vision problems on January 8 with the USA Today and a neurologist gave them an analysis: “He saw the neurologist and he told him: ‘Your brain is not working with your eyes the right way,’ Cassidy said…’It could be a prolonged process,’ Cassidy said. ‘At least now we know what it is, whether it takes a month, two months, six months to correct.’ The neurologist did not give the sense that the issue could be career-threatening.”

Chadd Cassidy is long gone, but Lieuwen’s problems are not. He is going to be under constant surveillance year round and if there seems to be a problem with his performance or health, this will likely be his last season with the Sabres.

To make matters worse, by the time the season starts, Lieuwen will be 24 years old while Makarov will only be 22. This doesn’t help the 6’6″ netminder out of the WHL’s Kootney Ice.

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  • This all looks pretty bad for Lieuwen and his future with the Sabres, but he is still a solid goaltender and he should not be written off. The Americans have made progress this offseason and this could bring out the best out of him. Lieuwen has the frame and the athleticism to make a serious case for him to earn another contract, but it looks as if the odds are not in his favor.

    The entire Sabres organization needs a fresh start. The Sabres look like they are getting theirs, but so are the Americans. Every play has the chance to reestablish himself. As long as he can stay healthy and play consistent, Nathan Lieuwen could really benefit from this fresh start. This is not going to be a breeze for Makarov even with Lieuwen’s health concerns.

    Coach Cunneyworth is not simply going to hand the reigns over to Makarov, he is going to have to fight for the #1 position. There are no more given spots in Buffalo or Rochester like the last two seasons. It is time to start winning and the best way to prepare the new look organization is to have them fight and earn their role on their given team.

    The odds may be in Andrey Makarov’s favor, but ruling out Nathan Lieuwen could turn into a mistake. It is do or die this year for these two, I’d expect them to put their full arsenal of talents on display.

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