Dan Bylsma didn’t care if Robin Lehner stopped one puck or 100 Tuesday. That wasn’t the point. What mattered was the Sabres’ No. 1 goaltender was back on the ice with his teammates.
His face red and sweat pouring, it was clear Lehner had a tough workout. For the first time since suffering a high-ankle sprain in Buffalo’s season opener, Lehner participated fully in practice. He faced plenty of shots and even took part in the session-ending shootout, showing he’s close to putting the injury behind him.
“I can pretty much do whatever, but I still have a little issue around my right post,” Lehner said in First Niagara Center. “I’m pretty much 100 percent to practice. Game-wise, I’ve been out, I don’t even know, around three months. It’s going to take a few days to get back in the swing of things and get back in the tempo and get back reading the pucks.”
Bylsma said the Sabres will gauge Lehner’s progress in practice over the next five to seven days before determining when to put him in a game. The goaltender will get at least one rehab start in Rochester before rejoining the Sabres, who play Wednesday in Washington.
“I’ve been working almost 10 times a week with the gym guys, so it’s going to be a lot easier coming back with what’s been going on here,” Lehner said.
“They gave me kind of six to 10 weeks right when it happened, more to the 10-week part because I’m a goalie and we need our feet and we need to bend them pretty well.
“I had a little setback around the eighth week. I felt like I was pretty much 100 percent, and I had a little setback. It’s been a mental part to this, too, but we stuck through it. All the medical staff has been really good and pushed me through it. It’s nice to be back.”
Lehner clearly needs to get back up to speed before heading into an NHL net. Shot after shot sailed by him early in practice, which was expected after nearly 12 weeks off.
“I purposely didn’t watch if he stopped the puck or didn’t stop the puck,” Bylsma said.
The time alone was rough for Lehner. Last season ended early because of a concussion, and his Sabres career was short-circuited after just 30 minutes.
“My concussion with Ottawa was my first injury, and it was pretty unlucky to get this one right away coming into this season,” the 24-year-old said. “I’m not used to being away from the guys, and that’s the hard part. You miss being around.”
Chad Johnson and Linus Ullmark will continue to share the Sabres’ net until Lehner is ready. Johnson is 10-9-2 with a .918 save percentage, while Ullmark is 5-7-2 with a .911 in his first 14 games in North America.
“He’s come in and embraced it, and he’s shown what he’s capable of,” Lehner said of Ullmark. “Both him and Johnny have been very good, and I’ve been very happy for them.”
The Sabres practiced in front of advertisements for Rochester-area restaurants, attorneys and medical facilities. It’s because the Amerks are taking over the arena Wednesday.
Rochester will face the St. John’s IceCaps, the farm team for the Montreal Canadiens, at 7 p.m. in First Niagara Center. Tickets range from $10 to $20. It is a home game on the Amerks’ schedule.
The Amerks’ roster includes first-year pros Justin Bailey, Nick Baptiste, Evan Rodrigues and Jean Dupuy, and veterans Patrick Kaleta and Matt Ellis.
Bylsma altered his lines late in Monday’s 2-0 loss to Washington, and he hinted they would remain in place for the rematch. The lines had Ryan O’Reilly centering for left wing Jamie McGinn and right wing Sam Reinhart, Jack Eichel in the middle of Zemgus Girgensons and Brian Gionta, Johan Larsson flanked by Evander Kane and Tyler Ennis, and David Legwand in the middle of Matt Moulson and Nicolas Deslauriers.
Bylsma said he will not change the personnel on his struggling power-play unit, which is in an 0-for-17 slump.
“Our breakout and our entry was more about execution than personnel,” the coach said.
The Sabres held their monthly “mustache boy” shootout contest at the end of practice. The last player to score has to grow a mustache for a month or shave one already in place. Facial-haired defenseman Zach Bogosian lost and angrily chucked his stick into the empty stands.
Said Bylsma: “No one’s happy when they get mustache boy.”