Robin Lehner is ready to head back into the Sabres’ crease. He’s also ready to see Buffalo win.
With just one victory in six games, the Sabres will enter this weekend’s back-to-back outings in a rough spot. They’ll host Florida on a Saturday with a 1-3-2 record, then fly to Winnipeg for a game Sunday against the Jets.
“I feel like we’re there,” said Lehner, who returned to practice Friday after missing two games with a stomach bug. “That’s the frustrating part. We’re there. It’s close games, but it kind of gets stretched out. We’re in the game, then in five-minute segments we kind of lose the game.
“We’ve got to stay consistent to our game plan. It’s not like we’re not in games. I’m not going to sit here and say it’s good that we’re not winning because it’s not. But there’s a few things that we can change to keep it even closer and closer.”
The Sabres need more consistent efforts from period to period. They held a 3-0 third-period lead in Philadelphia, then lost 4-3 in a shootout. They fell into a 2-0 first-period hole Thursday night against Minnesota, then put up 19 shots during the second. None went in during the 4-0 loss.
“There’s a lot of games left,” Lehner said in KeyBank Center. “That’s the good thing going for us. We’ve got to buy in. We’ve got to buy into playing the game plan. It’s not 55 minutes buying into the game plan or 50 minutes. It’s 60 minutes or overtime. We’ve got to do what we’re saying we’re going to do.
“We have the ingredients to be able to play consistently and good hockey. I’m not going to sit here and say we’re going to win every game because let’s be realistic. I feel we can be competitive in every game and keep it close, but that requires that we play a certain way. As long as we don’t do that, we can’t expect results.”
The goaltender said he expects to start Sunday in Winnipeg, but coach Dan Bylsma declined to announce a starter for Saturday. Anders Nilsson could make his third straight start, or Buffalo could turn to Linus Ullmark. Whoever is in net will need help.
“I don’t think it’s waiting for something,” Bylsma said. “We can’t wait for a bounce to go our way, or we can’t wait for their goalie to mishandle a puck and put it in the net for us. A little bit, we were doing that.
“We have some disappointments in terms of expectations this year. I think we expect to win the game in Calgary. We should expect to win the game in Philadelphia. You’re looking at a different feeling if we do. We’re dealing with the players we have on the ice and the players we don’t have on the ice as a team and a group. That’s something we’ve got to keep focused on and keep dealing with and find a way to win a hockey game in the meantime.”
The players not on the ice are Jack Eichel and Evander Kane. Eichel has shed the scooter and walking boot he was using for his high-ankle sprain, but he’s only two weeks into an injury that lasts six to eight weeks. Kane (cracked ribs) was also at the arena and may begin cardio work next week, but he’s only two weeks into a monthlong ailment.