Robin Lehner is not the type of guy to pass up a fight. So with a multiplayer scrum going on at the side of his crease, the Sabres goaltender grabbed 6-foot-6, 231-pound Michael McCarron with one arm and yanked him over the pile like he was a teddy bear.
“It’s a big guy laying on top of one of my guys,” Lehner said Wednesday night. “I don’t go in and punch him. I could have jumped right in and did whatever I want with him. I grabbed him and pulled him away. He punched me, I punched back.”
After a couple of jabs, Lehner looked up and wanted more. Montreal goalie Ben Scrivens had skated to center ice to get closer to the action, so Lehner took off ice his mask and challenged his fellow netminder. To Lehner’s dismay, the officials stepped in front of the goalie while Scrivens stayed at the red line.
“Scrivens had about 30 seconds to come do something. He didn’t. He stood up there,” Lehner said. “Next year, if he wants to go, I’m right here.”
The two exchanged words while heading to their dressing rooms for the second intermission.
“He’s a big boy,” Scrivens told SportsNet.ca. “He’s a bit of a psycho, but he’s a good guy. I might be a little lucky I didn’t have to go down, but I would have if my teammates needed it.”
The lack of fisticuffs had Lehner heated, but suffering a loss was just as infuriating. The Canadiens picked up a 3-2 overtime win when Paul Byron’s pass to the front bounced off the stick of Buffalo defenseman Zach Bogosian. Montreal’s second goal went in off the stick of Sabres captain Brian Gionta. Lehner was beat cleanly on the Habs’ first goal.
“The first goal is not a good goal,” said Lehner, who fell to 5-9-5 after making 20 saves.
While Lehner was unhappy he couldn’t drop the gloves, he’s glad the NHL is planning to shed equipment. Too many nights, Lehner looks down the ice and feels he’s staring into a mirror. The problem with that is he’s 6-foot-5, 245 pounds and his counterpart might be 6-2, 160. With all the equipment on, they look the same.
Not for long.
The NHL is finally moving ahead with a plan to shrink and streamline goalie equipment, specifically pants and chest protectors. Kay Whitmore, the league’s senior director of hockey operations who handles goalie issues, said prototypes will be available in June and rule changes are set for next season.
“That’s perfect,” Lehner said. “The discussion I had with Kay Whitmore when I was in Toronto was fairly simple. When I go and buy clothes, I buy clothes that fit me, you know? It should be the same thing here. If you have a 34 waist or whatever you have around your thighs, you shouldn’t have stuff that’s double that size. It should be a little more tailor-made, and it should be fitted to how big you are.”
NHL general managers proposed the changes this week during their three-day meeting in Florida. The new rules will need approval from the competition committee and board of governors. The league is looking to increase scoring and goalies have been kept abreast of the changes, so approval is expected.
The goalie guild has long been opposed to smaller equipment for safety purposes. Technological advancements have eased that concern.
“There’s things that can stop a bullet out there,” Lehner said. “We’re going to have some bruises. We were dumb enough to make the choice to stand in front of pucks. To complain about it, I think there’s no point to do it.”
While Lehner likes the changes from a fairness standpoint, he doesn’t think smaller equipment will mean more goals.
“I might be wrong, but it might even go the other way,” he said. “Goaltenders are going to move better. They’re going to have less weight and padding on them.”
In other news from the GM meetings, the league said it would tell teams in June if it plans to expand for the 2017-18 season and provided the framework for an expansion draft. Teams will be allowed to protect 11 players, with first- and second-year pros ineligible to be picked. The number of players a team could lose would correspond to the number of expansion teams (one or two).
“I think it means you might lose a No. 4 or No. 5 defenseman, or a No. 6 or No. 7 forward, or a decent goalie,” Sabres GM Tim Murray said in Boca Raton, according to ESPN.com.
Andrew Poturalski has joined the professional ranks, but a big collegiate moment may await him.
The 22-year-old from Williamsville has been named one of 10 finalists for the Hobey Baker Award, given annually to the top NCAA player. Poturalski finished second in the nation in scoring with 52 points in 37 games for the University of New Hampshire. He signed a two-year contract with the Carolina Hurricanes last week.
Another finalist for the Hobey is JT Compher, a former second-round draft pick by the Sabres who was traded to Colorado as part of the Ryan O’Reilly deal. Compher leads the nation with 39 assists in 34 games and has added 13 goals for Michigan.