OTTAWA – Robin Lehner repeatedly added to his highlight reel Saturday night. His improved athleticism was on full display, allowing him to stretch, reach and slide for game-saving stops.
He’d be just fine with not doing it so often.
The goaltender and his Buffalo Sabres teammates happily exited Ottawa with a 2-1 comeback victory. Lehner made it happen, finishing with 32 saves while keeping Buffalo within a goal until its third-period rally.
The goalie stopped point-blank chances, odd-man rushes and stoned Senators who were streaking through the zone. The fact he made so many big saves put a small damper on his postgame party.
“I just want us to be a little bit tighter,” Lehner said in Canadian Tire Centre. “There was a little bit too many chances, but you’ve got to give them credit, too. They’re a fast team over there. I think it’s just recognizing certain pucks that we’re missing.”
While Buffalo’s skaters may be missing pucks and assignments, Lehner sure isn’t. He’s 3-1 in his last four starts, allowing just five goals while recording a .961 save percentage. He improved his season totals to 4-3-1 with a .929 save percentage and 2.14 goals-against average.
“He’s a battler,” Sabres right wing Kyle Okposo said. “Early in the season, you could see his game was coming. He made some really good stops. The last few games that he’s played, he’s been battling for us and making big saves.
“He made so many huge saves tonight. His athleticism is really good. It’s allowing him to make some of those saves.”
Lehner was previously regarded as a big goalie who could get in the way of pucks. His body-sculpting summer has transformed him into a tall goalie who can go out of his way to get pucks. It’s a huge difference, one that is clear on the stat sheets.
In addition to working on his body, Lehner has improved his angles and footwork under the tutelage of goaltending coach Andrew Allen.
“I’m just trying to work on being patient and use my body, try to be calm in the net and not throw myself everywhere,” Lehner said. “I’ve been working hard this summer. I worked hard with Andrew, worked hard with my dad back home. I think working with Andrew has helped a few things quite a bit.”
Lehner had the right angle when Matt Puempel was alone in front in the third. He used his speed to slide across and make pad saves on Fredrik Claesson and Mark Stone. He reached back to rob Jean-Gabriel Pageau with his stick.
“I move better laterally this season,” Lehner said. “The Pageau save, it’s nice that I got it, but I put myself in that position. I got myself out of the crease and got out of angle there. I was not as patient as I wanted to be, but I was fortunate it didn’t go in.”
Only one shot did.
“When we beat him, he was there anyways,” Senators captain Erik Karlsson said.
Lehner’s dynamic showing allowed Okposo to tie the game with 1:07 gone in the third. Sam Reinhart scored the winner seven minutes later. The victory moved Lehner to 2-0-1 against his former team.
More importantly to him, the Sabres improved to 5-4-2 with their fourth win in five outings.
“No matter who we would play today, it was a win that we needed,” Lehner said. “I felt good. I’ve felt good all season. There’s been a few goals here and there that I want to work on, but we’ve all got to keep grinding as a team.
“We’ve got a few players away, and we don’t want to let that affect us. We want to just do our best and work together.”