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Lehner's numbers improve, but Sabres goalie more impressed by team's smarts

Sabres goaltender Robin Lehner is a lot like Bills quarterback Tyrod Taylor. People tend to focus on the flaws and question their long-term ability at the game's most important position.

Lehner knows those critics are out there. Need proof?

With a 32-save shutout Tuesday in a 1-0 victory over Detroit, Lehner's save percentage soared from .894 to .913.

"It doesn't really matter," Lehner said, "because when I have good numbers it doesn't matter anyway."

Besides, Lehner added, the focus shouldn't be on him. It should be on what happened in front of him.

Sure, he was the First Star with his sixth career shutout, but it was made possible because Buffalo played smart.

"As I said from Day One, I think we have a great game plan," Lehner said in KeyBank Center. "We've just got to do it. We got it deep. We flipped pucks out when we were in doubt. We didn't force plays.

"That third period, we were just flicking it out, putting it in and we kept them going 200 feet back to get it, and we had the numbers back home. It's hard for teams to do that."

That wasn't the case while Buffalo was starting 1-5-2. It was easy for teams to do everything. The Sabres consistently forced plays, committed turnovers and watched two or three skaters rush toward Lehner and fellow netminder Chad Johnson.

"We've left them out to dry, especially early in the year," defenseman Jake McCabe said. "We've cleaned up our odd-man rushes. We had a couple tonight still and we want to eliminate those, but he came up big for us."

Lehner talked during training camp about how important the Sabres' F3 would be. That's the third forward into the offensive zone, the one who needs to skate the fine line between being aggressive and playing defense.

Lehner was impressed by their efforts against the Red Wings.

"When we get a high F3 and get it deep and don't force plays, yeah, I have to make a couple big saves, but that's part of my job," he said. "When every shot is a big save, it doesn't work."

The ease of the saves rather than the number is what has Lehner and the Sabres feeling confident at they visit Columbus on Wednesday. Buffalo is suddenly 3-1-1 in its last five and has won two straight.

The Wraparound: Sabres 1, Red Wings 0

"It just gives us a little confidence and a little mojo going forward," McCabe said. "We've put two good games together in how we want to play. I think going forward to Columbus, now is the time to make up for our slow start. Hopefully, we continue this."

The Blue Jackets are 5-3 but have lost two straight. They haven't played since Saturday, so they should certainly be fresher than the Sabres.

In situations like that, it's even more important that Buffalo sticks with its smart play – even if it's not the most thrilling.

"When you play the right way you're not always going to get what you want," Sabres coach Phil Housley said. "You're just going to have to take what's given, and sometimes you're going to have to defend. We all want to play offense. We all want to play in the offensive zone, but when it's your shift to come back and play solid defense and it requires that, you have to do it."

Said Lehner: "I felt we played really solid defensively. They really helped me out, helped me out on rebounds. I think we played a solid, good game. We have things we can get better at, but on the defensive end I think it was good."

After the start Buffalo had, any win is good, even when there's only one goal (by Benoit Pouliot) to celebrate.

"It probably wasn't the most exciting game for the fans and viewers, but we got the job done," McCabe said. "Going forward, it shows if we do manage the puck well and don't give up too much, then it's effective."

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