Robin Lehner looks good in the Buffalo Sabres’ goal. Really good. No. 1 goalie good.
His teammates gave him very little help Friday night. Pretty much playing on an island, Lehner kept the Sabres in a game they didn’t deserve to have a chance to win. It took until the final eight minutes for the Detroit Red Wings to snap a scoreless tie and accrue all their offense in a 3-0 win over Buffalo in First Niagara Center.
But you can’t blame Lehner. He made 42 saves in the game as the Wings outshot Buffalo, 45-19. It wasn’t spectacular goaltending. It was simply calm, consistent play in the crease with solid positioning and good puck tracking allowing the 6-foot-5 Lehner to keep the Wings at bay.
“It felt good again,” Lehner said. “I try to keep building. ... I don’t like losing. It’s a fine line in this league. You can stay in games but to win them you have to play a certain way. You have to buy in and we have to play as a team.”
“He’s a big guy back there. He battles and competes,” said defenseman Mike Weber. “He’s athletic. He’ll get across the net, make some good saves for us. He’s been extremely solid.”
Sure has. In his three starts since returning from the high ankle sprain that sidelined him more than three months, Lehner has gone 0-3 despite posting a 2.36 goals-against average and a .936 save percentage. Playing consecutive games for the first time as a Sabre – and combining to stop 75 of 79 shots in Friday’s game and Wednesday’s loss at Colorado – was clearly significant.
“It’s a big step,” said coach Dan Bylsma. “He’s played strong, played well, been effective. ... The frustrating part is he’s played well and doesn’t have a win for us yet. I know the process for him is not maybe about the wins and losses, but it is something that he wanted to get in the net and come up with a win for us.”
“He played great. He was our best player tonight,” captain Brian Gionta said of Lehner. “Really gave us a chance right into the third. It was 0-0. We had no right being in that game, and you come out and have a good 20 minutes, you can steal a game because of the way he was playing.”
Prior to the game, Lehner talked about making sure he stayed detail-oriented during his comeback process under the tutelage of goaltending coach Andrew Allen.
“It’s not going to be a straight line here,” he said. “I’m going to have some adversity. Hopefully just working hard and doing my best is going to have good things come my way.”
Lehner said he has full mobility in his foot, with only the usual soreness expected after a longterm ankle injury.
About the only change he’s making in deference to the injury is taking his skates off between periods to relieve some pressure on the foot.
He needed some breaks Friday as the Sabres’ 26-shot deficit was their widest disparity of the season. The Red Wings had 30 more shot attempts overall (76-46), and the third period was particularly calamitous from the Buffalo standpoint for the wide margin of play Detroit enjoyed while collecting its three goals. The Wings outshot the Sabres, 18-2, over the final 20 minutes and had a monstrous 33-6 advantage in shot attempts.
It sure looked the Sabres left their legs on the long flight home from Colorado that got into town at 5 a.m. Thursday.
Ace rookie Dylan Larkin broke the tie with 7:59 left and then fed Henrik Zetterberg with a magnificent cross-ice pass to set up an insurance goal with 2:51 to go. Lehner was bummed about the first goal, with Larkin curling behind the net to Lehner’s left and beating him off the inside of the right leg as the Buffalo goaltender tried to make his push across the crease.
“It’s tough to make a long movement over there without opening up,” Lehner said. “I wish I could but he hits the right spot. The 0-3 in the win column bothers me. I want to win. Obviously it’s nice that I feel good out there. In the end of the day, it’s all about wins.”