Sabres Notebook: New season brings same troubles to Lehner in the shootout - The Buffalo News

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Sabres Notebook: New season brings same troubles to Lehner in the shootout

Robin Lehner knew the question was coming. He cut it off at the mention of  the word "shootout." It's been the glaring weakness in his game. Last season, Lehner didn't make one stop in a shootout, letting in eight goals on eight shots.

He had the opportunity to turn the page, make a fresh a start, exorcise his shootout demons on Thursday night.

But Lehner dove right on an amazing move by Jonathan Drouin, who then pulled back to the other side and roofed the puck to give the Montreal Canadiens a 3-2 win in the season opener in KeyBank Center.

It was the second shot that Lehner faced after he stopped Paul Byron.

"I didn't stop it. It hit the post," Lehner immediately corrected. "You know it's no secret. I struggled last year with it. I'm trying to move forward. It takes some guts to get out of this hole in the shootouts but you know what, I can't pout about it. I'm working on it and obviously it's not working yet, but hopefully it will come.

"It's not easy, mentally to go in right now and do it, but you know what, I'm not giving up. I get encouraged for it. I really wanted to get this one for the guys. I think they deserved it today."

While the mental block grew with some ferocity last year, Lehner has historically had difficulty with shootouts. Entering Thursday's game, he was 7-15 in shootouts, allowing 36 goals on 68 attempts for a .529 save percentage.

How does he get through the mental block?

"You've just got to mentally battle through it," head coach Phil Housley said. "But he made the first stop and you look at the Drouin move and it was a pretty good move and it was upstairs off his hands pretty quick. I think he's a battler. He's a competitor. He'll get through it."

Before the shootout, Lehner had played a solid game. He made several big saves, particularly in the first period when the Canadiens controlled play and peppered Lehner with the first seven shots on goal of the game.

"I think Robin, even throughout the camp and leading into this home opener has been terrific," Housley said. "His attitude has been great. He comes and works. Approaches the game the right way. He's been a great teammate and he made a lot of key saves for us in the first period when we were under siege there. He had a great game. He should feel good about himself."

Ah, but Lehner himself  is not terribly happy. There are mixed emotions, he said after the game. "It's pretty encouraging the way we played out there."

And some of those emotions were frustration, like when Lehner allowed the game-tying goal by Phillip Danault, shorthanded, midway through the third period. He was visibly upset at himself, even though it was a team effort in lacklusterness that led to the goal.

"People can say whatever they want about it. It's a fast play," Lehner said followed by a heavy sigh. "It's a fast play. I get there with my skate and he goes up on it, hits my pad, and it goes in. It happens in a split second and it's frustrating but it's a lucky goal."

***

 

The team announced Thursday morning that forwards Ryan O'Reilly, Kyle Okposo and Jack  Eichel along with defenseman Zach Bogosian would be the team's four alternate captains. Housley noted that those four "As" are likely to change.

"We're going to rotate them," the coach said.

"Our coaches sat down and really evaluated the situation and we felt the guys that we named we have total confidence in," Housley said after the team's morning skate in KeyBank Center. "Just talking to (general manager Jason Botterill), he was very comfortable with the decision so we named the four alternate captains at this point. There's a lot of good leaders in that team and we're going to rely on all of them to be a part of it."

Among the advantages of not naming a captain is spreading the responsibility for leadership around the team and the potential impact that can make in the room.

"With this leadership by committee, it's really going to force us to grow together and grow closer as a team," Okposo said. "I think that's a big thing in an organization, especially one that's younger, is everybody taking ownership and having a good number of guys really try to lead in their own way and try to grow as people. I think that's the right way to do it right now."

Okposo is no stranger to the letter on his sweater. He was an alternate captain for the Sabres last season and wore the "A" for seven seasons for the New York Islanders.

"It's something I take very seriously and it's just an honor to have it and be recognized as one of the leaders on this team," Okposo said. "In saying that you can't change who you are. I've worn a letter at different times of my career and I try not to let it change me, but in saying that I really want to take a step forward in my leadership role and in my play, too."

Eichel was asked about taking a bigger, or more formal, leadership role with the team after he signed his eight-year, $80-million contract extension.

His attitude on Thursday, when the "A" was affixed to his sweater, was the same as Wednesday's.

"It's a tremendous honor, but kind of like I said yesterday, I don't want to change too much," Eichel said. "I want to be myself around the rink every day, bring the same attitude, work ethic and personality and just be a good teammate. I think that's important. We're all just trying to work hard and get better every day. That's what a leader does."

* * *

While the Sabres have gone with a rotating alternate captain system for their leadership structure this season, the Rochester Americans have used the traditional route.

The Amerks named Kevin Porter captain with while Nathan Paetsch and Taylor Fedun will be alternate captains.

"They’re an extension of us," Rochester coach Chris Taylor said. "All players are, but most important is our captain and our assistant captains. They lead the way in the dressing room, and they put a lot of internal pressure on the players to make them better. Just how they act and what they do around the dressing room will definitely lead by example. That’s why we picked those three."

The 31-year-old Porter is making his third stint as the Amerks captain, who also wore the "C" in Rochester for the 2012-13 and 2013-14 seasons. Since then, Porter has won a Stanley Cup with the Pittsburgh Penguins and spent time with their AHL club, the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins.

Last season Paetsch, 34, won the Calder Cup with the Grand Rapids Griffins, where he was captain while the 29-year-old Fedun was an alternate captain for Rochester last season.

The Amerks open the season at 7:05 p.m. Friday in Blue Cross Arena. They host the Syracuse Crunch, which features former Canisius College standouts Cory Conacher and Shane Conacher.

* * *

With the holiday on Monday (Columbus Day in the United States, Thanksgiving in Canada) the Buffalo Sabres are making the most of their 3 p.m. faceoff against the New Jersey Devils with a Kids Day Party in the Plaza. The event will run from 1 to 3 p.m. in Alumni Plaza outside KeyBank Center.

The party will feature airbrush tattoos, balloon animals and music from DJ Milk. Kids can also participate in the inflatable "Hockey Shot" from the NHL Network while Perry's Ice Cream and Yancey's Fancy will be offering samples.

Fans can also take advantage of a special Kids Day ticket offer. With the purchase of an adult 300 Level II ticket, fans can by up to four $15 kids tickets. Tickets are available online at Sabres.com, at the KeyBank Center box office or by calling 1-888-223-6000.

The Sabres also announced the return of the Ultimate Sabres Fan Experience and ticket auction program. Proceeds benefit the Buffalo Sabres Foundation.

An auction winner is chosen for every game to receive the Ultimate Sabres Fan Experience package which includes two tickets to the game, an opportunity to watch the pregame skate from the Sabres penalty box, a chance to attend Phil Housley's postgame press conference, free parking and official pucks.

In addition, four pairs of premium tickets will be auctioned off for each home game.

The Ultimate Sabres Fan Experience and ticket auctions can be accessed through the Sabres Foundation auction section on NHL.com or by visiting Sabres.com/auctions.

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