Robin Lehner proved he can control a game. In his second start for the Sabres and first in three months, the goaltender gloved pucks with ease, froze them when the action got harried and teed them up for his defensemen behind the net.
None of it helped the Sabres avoid yet another home loss.
Boston beat Lehner three times in a 4-1 victory Friday night, though none of the goals can really be pinned on the returning netminder. The loss gets pinned on his record, however, spoiling his return from a long injury absence.
“It’s tough to lose, but I think there was a lot of positives in the game, too, for me personally,” Lehner said in First Niagara Center. “I felt like I was pretty calm and controlled out there and played the puck most of the night pretty well. I’ve just got to keep working.”
If Lehner was nervous, he hid it well. The big Swede stopped the first 11 shots he faced since suffering an ankle sprain Oct. 8, helping the Sabres build a 1-0 lead.
“I was very happy to be on the ice for the game,” he said. “It was a relief. It was a lot of different emotions.”
The final one was frustration, which happens often in Buffalo. The Sabres are 0-5-1 in their last six home games, dropping their record downtown to 8-14-2.
“It was a little disappointing because he looked good, looked solid, made some solid, good saves for us, and we come out on the wrong end,” Sabres coach Dan Bylsma said.
The first shot that got past Lehner was a rebound of a breakaway that he stopped. The second, which broke a 1-1 tie, went through traffic with just 29 seconds gone in the third period.
“He’s looking through our forward going out, their winger, our centerman, their centerman on a shot that just finds a way through by them all and into the top corner,” Bylsma said. “I don’t think he saw it at all.”
He didn’t, but what was visible was the deflation by the Sabres.
“They kind of took the air out of us there with the third-period goal,” defenseman Zach Bogosian said. “It was a tough one to take.”
The Bruins’ third goal, which sealed the Sabres’ fate, came with Lehner distracted by teammate Sam Reinhart and Boston’s Matt Beleskey fighting for position at the top of the crease.
“The chances that we gave up, we didn’t support him well,” Sabres captain Brian Gionta said.
Now that Lehner is back, he’ll need to support the Sabres. Scoring clearly remains an issue. They were held to one goal or less for the 14th time in 44 games. They’ve scored 10 times during the six-game skid at home.
Lehner won’t help that, but he can control the tempo and allow the Sabres to get comfortable. He’ll likely be the backup Saturday when the Sabres host Washington, but he has a chance to be in net Monday when Buffalo visits Arizona.
“He’s just going to make strides forward now,” Bogosian said. “He’s probably pretty anxious to get that first game back under his belt, and it’s something for him to build on.”
The Sabres need to build something quickly if they want to rise from 29th place. Lehner has belief that it’s possible. When he suffered a season-ending concussion with Ottawa last February, the Senators were 23rd overall. They went 21-4-3 down the stretch to make a stunning appearance in the playoffs.
“I come from a team last year in Ottawa that came from a pretty bad situation and made the playoffs,” Lehner said, “so I don’t see why not.”