Robin Lehner caught Dan Bylsma off-guard. The Sabres’ coach was standing on the bench during a stoppage in play when all of a sudden he heard Lehner’s voice.
“He’s coming to the bench and cheering the guys on and instructing them,” Bylsma said Monday. “I’ve never had a goalie show up there and be a vocal guy, but that’s really one of our key words with him is being engaged, being focused at every point.”
Lehner has been engaged and focused all right. Finally healthy and able to play, Lehner is showing why General Manager Tim Murray coveted him.
Lehner will head into Tuesday’s home game against Florida with a five-game hot streak. The goaltender has stopped 178 of his last 188 shots for a .947 save percentage and 2.00 goals-against average.
Lehner has had the Sabres’ back because he finally feels someone has his. He was continually stuck in a rotation or platoon during his five seasons with Ottawa, and it clearly weighed on him. The 24-year-old knows he’s the No. 1 guy in Buffalo, which has allowed him to become the type of goalie who can speak up on the ice or in the dressing room.
“I’ve been working hard, trying to work on a few things in my game,” Lehner said in First Niagara Center. “As I said before, when I played in Ottawa it was a lot of other things that went in my head there. I didn’t feel like I got the shot to play when I played good. Here, it’s a different thing.”
Lehner, who missed three months with a high-ankle sprain suffered in the season opener, has meshed well with his teammates and goaltending coach Andrew Allen. They’ve made him feel at home in his first season with Buffalo.
“I can hopefully just keep it going,” Lehner said. “I’m going to have my struggles here, too, but I feel like I have good support. Andrew is working well with me. It’s a good group of guys here.
“We’re trying really hard. We’re competing as a team. We’ve just got to keep getting better.”
Lehner has recorded at least 33 saves during his last five starts, including 36 in Saturday’s disappointing 2-1 overtime loss in Boston. The winning goal came on a penalty shot, infuriating Lehner. He chucked his helmet and said the referees should be embarrassed. He figured he’d get fined for the comments but hasn’t heard from the NHL.
Given a couple of days to cool off, he chose to reflect on the positives in back-to-back losses to the Bruins. The Sabres sustained a 3-2 shootout loss to Boston on Thursday.
“Obviously, we would like to win both those games,” Lehner said. “It’s also a hell of a hockey team over there, and we got away with a point in each of them. We showed that we can be up there. It wasn’t like they weren’t playing good or anything. We went toe-to-toe with Boston, and we got away with two points in those two games.
“It’s small things. They won in a shootout and they won on a penalty shot. You can say what you want about that, but we were right up there. There’s a lot of positives to take out of those games, and there’s a few things we need to work on.”
Lehner, who is a commanding presence at 6-foot-5 and 240 pounds, has been willing to tell his teammates what areas need shoring up.
“He’s pretty demanding out there,” defenseman Mark Pysyk said. “He tells us what he wants us to do.”
It’s easier for a player to talk when he’s playing well. The Sabres hope Lehner keeps the saves and conversations going.
“He’s been awesome,” Pysyk said. “You don’t really know where he’s going to be when he comes back from the injury, but he’s been giving us confidence playing in front of him and making big-time saves for us.”