After leaving Thursday’s season opener with a lower-body injury in the second period, Sabres goaltender Robin Lehner watched his team practice from the bench Friday morning.
How long Lehner’s injury will keep him on the sidelines is still to be determined, according to Sabres coach Dan Bylsma.
“Robin Lehner will have more evaluation done today and tomorrow and maybe have a further prognosis on what his injury is and the extent of it maybe tomorrow,” Bylsma said.
Chad Johnson will take over the starting goaltender duties in the meantime. While there were no call-ups on Friday morning with Rochester set to open their season at night, Linus Ullmark did participate in a full practice with the team.
Ullmark, 20, is currently listed on the non-roster injured list after undergoing hip surgery in the offseason.
“He’s on a schedule right now that roughly is in the 3-5 day range from now to return to play,” Bylsma said. “Actually today he will be re-evaluated again as to where he’s at and if he can return to play sooner or later.”
In other injury news, Sabres captain Brian Gionta was absent from practice again on Friday but did skate beforehand. He remains day-to-day with a lower-body injury.
JOHNSON READY TO SEIZE OPPORTUNITY
Last season, Chad Johnson was injured in practice prior to the game that was supposed to be his Sabres debut, an early-March contest with Ottawa.
The Senators were the opponent again on Thursday night when Johnson noticed Buffalo starter Robin Lehner beginning to limp in the net midway through the second period.
“I was going ‘Oh boy, here we go,’” Johnson said. “It’s unfortunate. It’s a weird situation, especially [with it being the] first game of the year but it is what it is.”
Johnson allowed one goal on eight shots after relieving Lehner in a one-goal game. The only goal scored on him came later in the second period when a puck deflected off of a Sabres player right onto the stick of Kyle Turris right at his doorstep.
For the foreseeable future, Johnson will be the Sabres starting goaltender.
“It is exciting,” he said about the opportunity. “Obviously I play hockey to play, so the more games I can play, the happier I am. It’s sort of a goal of mine to be a starting goaltender so the situation here is good for me. And again, for me I’m just looking forward to one game at a time and tomorrow it starts.”
Johnson said that he hasn’t had a stretch of multiple weeks as a starter since he was in the minors. He did play three games in six days for the Bruins towards the end of the 2013-14 season as the team looked to rest starter Tuukka Rask, all of which he won.
But after going 8-8-1 with a .889 save percentage with the Islanders prior to his trade to the Sabres last season, Johnson has felt like a better goalie after the work he put in this preseason.
His coach agrees.
“I think what we saw from him in last night’s game is what we saw from him in his exhibition games as well,” Bylsma said. “He’s had a calm, quiet demeanor in net … the picture of him pushing to the weak side and being real solid and square in net and making a glove save is what we’ve seen from him.”
Behind Johnson, the Sabres have two goalies in Rochester – prospects Nathan Lieuwen and Andrey Makarov. Lieuwen is expected to start for the Amerks on Friday.
Johnson is confident with the potential backups in the organization.
“I think every organization that I’ve been on has good depth,” he said. “At this level, a lot of times what makes that difference is an opportunity or the right person believing in you. I think every goalie, even at the minor league level, is a really good goalie and could possibly play in the NHL so we have good depth here.”
ZEMGUS SWITCHES BACK WITH JACK … FOR NOW
Zemgus Girgensons was back on the right wing alongside Jack Eichel at Friday’s practice. Girgensons was Eichel’s linemate at the outset of Training Camp this season, but his ability to play both center and wing has moved him around on various lines in the weeks since.
On Thursday with the team needing a boost in the third period, Bylsma played Girgensons on a line with Eichel and Evander Kane and liked what he saw. But Gionta had succeeded in that spot in the preseason, meaning that where Girgensons will play against Tampa Bay is dependent on the captain’s health.
“I think it was just a spur of the moment,” Girgensons said. “We switched around a lot last game so that was one thing that kind of got us going in the third period so maybe we’ll stick with it.”
The Sabres will return to action Saturday afternoon at First Niagara Center when they host the reigning Eastern Conference Champion Tampa Bay Lightning. Tops Sabres Gamenight begins at 12:30 p.m. on MSG-B and Bell TV. The game can also be heard live on WGR 550 with puckdrop set for 1 p.m.
26 Matt Moulson – 90 Ryan O’Reilly – 63 Tyler Ennis
9 Evander Kane – 41 Jack Eichel – 28 Zemgus Girgensons
82 Marcus Foligno – 22 Johan Larsson – 23 Sam Reinhart
44 Nicolas Deslauriers – 17 David Legwand – 88 Jamie McGinn
6 Mike Weber – 46 Cody Franson
4 Josh Gorges – 55 Rasmus Ristolainen
25 Carlo Colaiacovo – 3 Mark Pysyk
29 Jake McCabe – 65 Matt Donovan
31 Chad Johnson
35 Linus Ullmark