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Increase in speed, aggressiveness evident with Sabres' Lehner

Usually when hockey people talk about speed, it's forwards on breakaways or defensemen joining the rush. Goaltenders are an afterthought.

Robin Lehner, though, made a point of getting faster this summer.

"I think the strength of my game is reading plays," he said Saturday night. "What I've been lacking is a little bit of speed and a little bit of edge work, which I've been working on.

"I feel a lot faster right now."

The Sabres goalie was clearly more aggressive than normal during a 3-1 loss to Toronto. He made a point of challenging shooters at every opportunity, skating outside the crease to take away angles and force quicker decisions.

"I'm trying to build on some weaknesses from last year, try and reflect on things," Lehner said in KeyBank Center. "I'm working on it."

Lehner is coming off an impressive season. He finished 12th in the NHL with a .920 save percentage while facing the third-most shots.

On some of the goals, however, the 6-foot-4 netminder looked small. He'd drift back in his crease, allowing shooters to pick corners.

The new aggressive style should eliminate open parts of the net. Couple that with Lehner's size, and he could have an even better year covering the net.

"I've been working my legs," he said. "I'm a big goalie, man. I'm a 250-pound goalie, and I feel good out there. I feel fast."

He and goaltending coach Andrew Allen planned to rewind Saturday's loss and analyze the two shots that beat him. (Toronto scored its final goal into an empty net.) Lehner's initial reaction was he didn't like the first goal.

The goalie burst toward the left circle to stop a shot by driving defenseman Nikita Zaitsev. Mitch Marner was behind Lehner at the top of the crease and got a piece of the rebound, allowing James van Riemsdyk to swoop in for the deposit.

"I thought I was a little too aggressive on the first goal there," Lehner said.

The essential purpose of the preseason is to get players in game shape and allow them to try new techniques. It may not have been perfect for Lehner, but he stood out with 30 saves on 32 shots.

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"Robin's been great this whole camp," coach Phil Housley said. "He's battling for pucks, second chances, rebounds. He doesn't have any quit in him.

"I like what I'm seeing in the games. He's competing."

Lehner emerged as a commanding voice in the dressing room last season, and the restricted free agent wanted a contract that would cement his spot in the city and organization. His agents, however, felt a one-year deal would be better in the long run.

He signed a one-year deal worth $4 million that makes him an RFA again after this season. While that means he has to prove himself again, he's not looking at it that way.

"I am who I am, and I know what I can do when I'm healthy," Lehner said. "I know that if we put this team together and everyone plays to their capabilities, I think we can have a good season and a good future here.

"I contemplate a lot and try to see small things, see what I want to work on and get better at. Coming in at 26 now, I feel like I know the league. My head is where it needs to be. I think my hockey smarts are one of my strengths, and I've just got to keep working on my details.

"I'm excited to keep building."

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