NEW YORK -- The Buffalo Sabres' first trip of the season to Canadian Tire Centre is Tuesday night and the game against the Ottawa Senators figures to be an intensely personal one for goaltender Robin Lehner.
It will be the first time back in his former rink for Lehner, who is almost certain to get the start in net after Chad Johnson played Monday's game against the New York Rangers. Acquired in a draft day trade from the Senators, Lehner was downplaying the return prior to Monday's game.
"It's been some time now. I have to look at it as nothing special really other than seeing some friends on the team and people after the game," he said. "It's just another game where you look to play well and hopefully get a win.
"I knew I was going to play one of these two games. They asked me and I said it really doesn't matter. ... But it will be a fun game against a lot of good friends and with some good memories."
Lehner played 28 minutes of the season opener against the Senators before suffering the high ankle sprain that kept him out of the lineup for three months. He's 0-3 since his return despite a .936 save percentage and 2.36 goals-against average.
"It was a little weird in the beginning of that first half game. But it's been a few months now and I really feel a part of this team now," Lehner said. "Leaving Ottawa was really a mixture of a lot of things. I was injured, had a tough stretch, Andrew Hammond played so well, there was a chance for them to save a little bit of money. There were a lot of things. But I'm happy here."
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Lehner has been particularly happy with his play of late, despite the lack of victories. The Sabres have scored just two goals in his three starts and Lehner has been playing in hard luck the last two games as he stopped 75 of 79 shots but got no reward despite plenty of quality work with goaltending coach Andrew Allen.
"Stuff is really nicely coming together," Lehner said. "I feel like a better goalie this year than I was last year. And even with a long-term injury, that's a pretty good place to be. The ankle is still sore sometimes but it's very functional. There's a few situations where you still feel it but that's getting better. The medical staff has really helped me out here."
Matt Moulson's goal less streak hit 36 games and counting Monday as the the veteran was back on a line with his housemate, Jack Eichel, and winger Zemgus Girgensons. Eichel said prior to the game he was hoping to help Moulson snap out of the skid.
"I don't know how many guys go through a tough stretch like this and work the way he does," Eichel said. "He's at the rink every day, brings a good attitude to the rink and the locker room. Living with him, he never brings home the fact he's in this drought. You would never know. Just the way he handles it, you can learn a lot from that. He's definitely a professional."
Eichel said he will be doing everything to help Moulson get a goal, even if that calls for unorthodox means.
"The guy lets me live at his house and does everything for me. Of course, I want to help him," Eichel said. "If I could, I'd like to take a slapshot off his" butt.
Top defense pair Rasmus Ristolainen and Zach Bogosian each played 28 minutes, 15 seconds in Friday's loss to Detroit. It was a season high for Bogosian and the third-highest time on ice total of the year for Ristolainen -- all in the last three games.
Since joining as a pair, Ristolainen has played 30:15, 28:17 and 28:15, while Bogosian has gone 26:16, 24:18 and 28:15. How feasible were those kind of minutes with another game coming Tuesday night? The pattern continued Monday as Ristolainen played 28:12 while Bogosian clocked in at 25:16.
"I think you do have to be aware of that and concerned with that. You also have to be in the moment," said coach Dan Bylsma. "You want to win the hockey game, put the best guys out there to give you a chance to do that. If that's Zach and Risto for 30 minutes, then it might be 30 minutes and we'll figure out Ottawa."
"You go into every game on its own and if you're worried about the next game you're not focused enough on the one that's right in front of you," added Bogosian. "During the course of a game, you try to be as smart as you can be about your minutes. You can be smart about it if you're aware of how many times you're jumping over the boards."
Ristolainen, of course, is a 21-year-old who's not worried about fatigue. He said postgame recovery is the key.
"Eat well, sleep well, get rest. That's your recovery," he said. "I feel like I'm in pretty good shape to handle those minutes and I really enjoy it. You never know how much ice time you'll get. I always think I have to earn it. You play as well and as much as I can."
"It feels great for me," said Bogosian, who missed the season's first 17 games with a lower-body injury. "Any time you get a chance to play that amount, you're going to strive and step up in those situations. I feel good where my game is going. As a competitive person, you always want to play a lot. To get chances like that is a good feeling."
It was Eichel's first trip to Madison Square Garden, which is just two years removed from the completion of a massive $1 billion renovation.
"There's a lot of history in the building and you hear a lot about," he said. "It's pretty cool to play my first game here."
Eichel had never been inside until Monday's morning skate. He said he came to New York during a trip to a New Jersey tournament with the Boston Junior Bruins and the team drove by the arena during a double decker bus tour.
Even though the city and environs were buried in two feet of snow on Saturday, you would not have known it by looking around Monday. Traffic and pedestrians moved as normal through Manhattan and the only remaining disprutions were Long Island Railroad trains heading in the direction of JFK Airport in Queens, which was hit by a record 27.7 inches of snow.
Pedestrians had some issues because it was sunny and temperatures were approaching 40 on Monday. That created huge water puddles of melting snow at intersections and snow and ice melt flying to the sidewalks off tall buildings.