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Sabres Notebook: Lehner is hot; Kane is witty; Johnson is popular

NEW YORK – Robin Lehner put on one layer of clothes. Then another. And another. And another.

"It's definitely cold out there," the Buffalo Sabres goaltender said after practicing outdoors Sunday in Citi Field.

It was 16 degrees and sunny when the Sabres skated in the New York Mets' baseball stadium. That's one of the few things that has cooled Lehner, who has been hot heading into Monday's Winter Classic against the New York Rangers.

He has a .935 save percentage in his last nine games, putting up a 4-2-3 record despite spotty goal support. His .928 save percentage in December ranked fifth among NHL goalies heading into New Year's Eve. He's stopped 234 of the last 246 shots at five-on-five, an impressive .951 save percentage. That includes three goals that were technically six-on-five since the opponent had its goalie pulled.

Lehner will look to keep rolling with the hockey world focused on the game.

"I'm going to try to enjoy this opportunity," Lehner said. "I'm going to enjoy the atmosphere out there and just have fun."

Lehner has been fiery off the ice, too. He's taken shots at the NHL's replay system. He's engaged in animated dressing-room conversations.

He knows he'll be even more pumped up once the teams skate out to a packed house of more than 41,000. He'll try to keep the adrenaline down, but …

"It's probably going to be hard," Lehner said. "It's an experience that not many people get to experience. You've just got to enjoy it and have fun with it."

Lehner will get extra motivation when he looks at the other net. Swedish countryman Henrik Lundqvist will start for the Rangers, and he's 3-0 with a .933 save percentage and 2.00 goals-against average in three outdoor games.

"Hockey is a small world," Lundqvist said. "The first time I met Robin was at his house when I went to meet his dad and talk about goaltending. He was maybe 11, 12 years old and had just started playing. I did know he had big dreams, but you also understand it's a long road to make it.

"I'm really happy for him. He worked really hard to get where he is today."

The respect is mutual.

"He's the best Swedish goaltender that's ever played," Lehner said. "He's a good guy, and it's always fun playing against him."

The word "fun" repeatedly came up during Lehner's chat. He enjoyed the post-practice family skate that included his wife, sister and 3-year-old son. He liked the condition of the ice and rink, though the sun was a little tough. He even had fun putting all those clothes on.

"My skates were a little tight," he said. "I had double socks. That was the only problem I had."

If that's the only thing that goes wrong for Lehner during this event, the Sabres will be in good shape.

"Any team is lucky to be part of something like this," he said. "We've been playing better, but it's a good opportunity for us in front of a big stage. Hopefully, we'll go out and get a win and keep the momentum going."


With the sun shining and reflecting off the ice, many Sabres opted to put on eye black. Evander Kane said it's more fashion than substance.

"It's all about style points," the left winger said with a smile. "It does absolutely nothing when it comes to sun. I’ll probably spend a little bit of time in the bathroom later on tonight trying to figure out what looks best for me and bring that into tomorrow’s game."

Sabres eager to prove they belong in Winter Classic spotlight

There will be legitimate tricks to handle the elements. While the sun may affect goalies, the stiff breeze blowing through the ballpark will have more of an impact.

"The pucks are real cold, which is making them bounce a little differently," center Ryan O'Reilly said. "The wind is blowing my stick around a bit, which is different."

"When the wind picks up, it gets a little dicey," added right wing Kyle Okposo. "If it's a cross wind, it kind of blows your stick a little bit, makes you miss a pass by that much. It's definitely a little bit of a factor, but same thing for both teams."


Backup goaltender Chad Johnson was a popular guy on the ice. He knows why.

He had a camera on his mask and microphone under his gear for television purposes.

"Guys were talking to me a little more than they usually do," Johnson said. "They usually leave me alone, then I have a mike on and everyone's trying to talk to me."


During the second intermission, USA Hockey will announce the men's, women's and sled hockey teams that will compete in the 2018 Olympics.

Former Sabres captain Brian Gionta is a lock for the men's team, while Western New York goaltenders David Leggio and Parker Gahagen are hopefuls. Buffalo native Adam Page should make the sled hockey team. The women's team could include Buffalo's Emily Pfalzer and other Beauts.

The men's team will not include NHL players since the league decided not to go to South Korea.

"Every kid dreams about trying to play in the Olympics. I'm the same way," Sabres center Jack Eichel said. "Obviously, when we found out we were not going to be able to play in the Olympics, it's tough.

"It's something that I've moved on from. I know some guys that hopefully get the opportunity to play for the United States. I'll be following it and rooting for them."

Mike Harrington: In Winter Classic spotlight, Eichel looks to stay hot out in the cold


The family skate involved kids, wives and one former Sabres coach. Ted Nolan joined his son on the ice.

"He was really flying around out there," forward Jordan Nolan said with a smile.


Right wing Jason Pominville, the lone Buffalo alumnus from the 2008 Winter Classic, was asked to compare this Sabres team to the one that lost to the Penguins outside. He had trouble.

"I don't remember half the team, half the players," Pominville said.


Defenseman Victor Antipin missed practice for the second straight with an illness, coach Phil Housley said.

NHL Winter Classic: By the numbers

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