Mike Harrington's Hot Read: Finally, some goals and a W for Lehner - The Buffalo News

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Mike Harrington's Hot Read: Finally, some goals and a W for Lehner

Maybe Robin Lehner needed to give his team one of those patented death stares.

The Sabres' goalie must have wondered what all the noise was in the second period Tuesday in KeyBank Center. He hasn't heard it much this year.

Lo and behold, it was the goal horn followed by DJ Kool clearing his throat four times in a span of 6 minutes, 13 seconds. Four goals was the most the Sabres had scored in any previous game downtown this year. In less than half a period? It was almost preposterous.

But there was no player in Blue and Gold who needed to see pucks go into the net more than Lehner, who entered the game with one win at home all season and just one win in his last 10 decisions. Lehner didn't do much to exactly distinguish himself in the 6-3 win over the Los Angeles Kings but he did enough to get a win.

Good for him. He works hard. He cares. His teammates have felt bad for him during this run, even though they haven't done much to help him get out of it.

But for all those who want to quote analytics and goal support and crab about injuries, I'm going to throw some water on this win.

For all the celebration over the offensive outburst, it shouldn't obscure the fact this team was dead for nearly 30 minutes. Their No. 1 goalie hasn't been close to good enough most of the season to have that spot without plenty of question of whether he deserves it. And the Kings got some patently terrible goaltending of their own.

Lehner entered the game 1-5-2 this season at home although a 2.36 goals-against average and .919 save percentage rate as decent. He's proven to be better on the road (4-4-2/2.51/.920). Anders Nilsson, meanwhile, has been a beast at home (4-1-1, 1.97 GAA, .942 save percentage). He's also on a 5-1-1 run thanks to more goal support -- and better play in the net.

"I feel for Robin. He's played some good hockey for us and given us a chance to win," coach Dan Bylsma said before the game. "The run support, the goal support just hasn't been there for him. I don't know if it's a product so much of how we're playing in front of him, if we're playing differently.

"Perhaps it's the opponent, the games we've been in. But I know you feel it. You want to get the guy a win and get him some goals. We just can't get to the point where we're pressing to score goals at the cost of the rest of our game to try to get him that run support. He's got to play a strong game for us, give us that chance to win and as a forward group, as a team, we have to go out there, buckle down and get that win for him."

The Kings had a 2-0 lead midway through the second period that looked more than secure. On the first goal, Anze Kopitar circled past Ryan O'Reilly alone on Lehner and got a break when the Buffalo goalie made a save but squeezed the puck into the net with his pad. In the second period, Jeff Carter burned Lehner high glove on a breakaway from the red line in. It was about as clean as most of the shootout goals Lehner has given up this year.

The Sabres were in control in the third period when a brutal icing call put the puck back into their end. A few seconds later, it was in the net courtesy of a Carter snapshot from the wall that just can't go in. Lehner was down on his knees and the puck whizzed over his shoulder.

The Lehner situation is a tough one for the Sabres. General Manager Tim Murray gave up a first-round pick to get him and Bylsma obviously knows that. It's not like the Sabres might be on the hook for $30 million like some other team you've heard of but one of the outgrowths of this season is they better be able to make their Tyrod Taylor-like decision on Lehner: With an expiring contract, is he going to be their No. 1 goalie moving forward or not?

The returns are iffy at this point. Lehner was just 5-9-5 last year in an injury plagued season for the Sabres. He's 6-9-4 this year. He's struggling with rebound control. He's not good on breakaways, which has translated to disaster in shootouts. Chad Johnson was better than Lehner last year. Nilsson has been better this year.

The Sabres are clearly committed to Lehner, often to the point of absurdity. If the New York Rangers can sit Henrik Lundqvist for four straight games in favor of red-hot Antti Raanta -- four straight! -- then the last-place team in the East can sit Robin Lehner.

The two-goal deficit had the life sucked out of the building yet again. You wondered when somebody in Blue and Gold was going to get angry. After a brutal first period, O'Reilly answered that call with the team's first goal on a wicked backhand that capped a possession full of his anger.

That got the ball rolling and made a pretty clear point. It was Eichel's seventh game back in the lineup so enough about injuries. There is simply no excuse for this team to enter the night last in the Eastern Conference. None. Lehner got a few goals and a win. Let's see what this long-awaited booster shot does for him going forward.

email: mharrington@buffnews.com

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