Robin Lehner understands there are times a goaltender needs to be pulled in order to provide a spark for the team. He just didn’t think Tuesday was one of those times.
Lehner lasted only 26:05 during the Sabres’ 4-2 loss to the New York Rangers. Coach Dan Bylsma summoned the goalie to the bench after Buffalo fell into a 3-0 hole early in the second period.
“I didn’t want to go off,” Lehner said in First Niagara Center. “It’s his decision, and I don’t agree with it, but he’s the boss.
“If that third shot was from the blue line and no one in front, yeah, I agree. If the other goals were just terrible goals, sure. But I’m a competitor. I want to stay in there.”
The two differences in opinion center around the Sabres’ game at the point of the yanking (Bylsma felt they were in a lull, Lehner thought they were skating well) and the Rangers’ second goal (Bylsma conceded it was not a good one, Lehner felt he merely guessed wrong).
Mats Zuccarello made it 2-0 with 4:38 gone in the second on a bad-angle shot with his skates on the goal line. Zuccarello entered the Sabres’ zone with speed and worked a give-and-go with Derek Stepan. Lehner lifted his left leg while keeping the right pad on the ice, giving Zuccarello a gateway to the net.
“Knowing Zuccarello and knowing what he’s going to do, I had him, then I had to respect the backdoor play,” Lehner said. “If there’s an open guy in the back he’s going to do it most of the time. He didn’t this time.”
Zuccarello didn’t give up the puck because there was no one at the backdoor for a pass. It was a two-on-three, not the three-on-one that Lehner assumed.
“It’s not a good one,” Bylsma said. “It’s the beginning of the second period. It puts us in a hole. I made the change really because you’re looking at 3-0 and there’s 13 minutes to go and we needed a spark, needed a change in our game.”
Lehner finished with 11 saves on 14 shots. The Rangers’ first goal came on breakaway, while the third one was through a screen set by wide-open Chris Kreider at the top of the crease.
Chad Johnson relieved Lehner and stopped all 11 shots he faced. (New York closed the scoring into an empty net.) Johnson has made five relief appearances this season and has turned aside 61 of the 64 shots for a .953 save percentage.
“You get in there and you try and battle,” Johnson said. “You’re just going in there and doing what you can to stop the next shot. It’s gone well for me, but you want to win when you’re this close and play so well in the third. It just didn’t happen.”
The Sabres gave Andrew Poturalski a taste of the NHL last summer. The Carolina Hurricanes are giving him an NHL career.
Carolina and the Williamsville native have agreed to a two-year contract that is worth up to $1.5 million. The 22-year-old forward signed with the Hurricanes after finishing second in scoring in the NCAA, recording 52 points in 37 games for the University of New Hampshire.
“Andrew had an outstanding season with New Hampshire and attracted interest from numerous NHL teams, so we are thrilled that he chose Carolina to start his professional career,” Hurricanes General Manager Ron Francis said. “He’s a smart hockey player with really good speed and skill.”
Poturalski will report to the Hurricanes’ American Hockey League team in Charlotte on an amateur tryout. His two-year deal will kick in next season. His NHL salary will be worth $700,000 in 2016-17 and $832,500 the following year, and he received a $185,000 signing bonus. His minor-league salary is $70,000.
Poturalski, a graduate of the Nichols School, scored 22 goals and added 30 assists this season as a sophomore. Following a freshman year that included 14 goals, the 5-foot-10, 190-pounder attended the Sabres’ development camp.
Forward Tyler Ennis (concussion) and defenseman Cody Franson (neck, head) still have no timetable for rejoining the Sabres.
“It’s been small steps recently for both,” Bylsma said, “but steps in the right direction. Hopefully, it means they can start moving toward the possibility of getting back on the ice with the team. But there’s no definitive time right now for that to be the case.”