MARQUETTE, Mich. - It looks like all of that work Robin Lehner put in over the offseason is paying off. Lehner's offseason transformation has been well-documented: after being limited last summer with a concussion, he stayed in Buffalo this year and worked hard over the last few months to lose weight, train, and rehab a surgically repaired ankle.
Through two preseason games, the results have been positive. Lehner allowed two goals on 39 shots to win his preseason debut against Ottawa last week, and turned in a 28-save shutout as an encore in Buffalo's 2-0 win over the Carolina Hurricanes at Lakeview Arena on Tuesday.
"He looks invigorated, he looks solid in net. He looks engaged and focused throughout the whole game," Sabres coach Dan Bylsma said of his goaltender. "That's really good to see. Both games, you have the feel that pucks aren't going to get by him, that he's playing big and strong. And that's a very good thing to have for a goalie."
The Sabres' trip to the Upper Peninsula actually went pretty well overall. Jack Eichel earned a point in his preseason debut on a goal from Sam Reinhart, and Hudson Fasching's hard work down low continued to pay off when he fed Nicolas Deslauriers to open the scoring early in the second period.
But it all comes back to the goaltender. Lehner missed his last start against the Maple Leafs on Friday due to an arm contusion, but he seemed as good as ever on Tuesday. He ate up rebounds, saw through traffic and was calm when the play around him wasn't.
Not only has Lehner been focused on the ice, but Deslauriers said he saw that same focus the few times he ran into him while working out over the summer.
Watch: Dan Bylsma | Watch: Robin Lehner |Watch: Sam Reinhart
"You don't want to get in his bubble," Deslauriers said. "He was just changed. He looks awesome. Before, he was already a good goalie and now it's maybe just that little step that he needed to be really dominant. Even if he lost all that weight and just being really in shape, he still looks big and quick in there."
Lehner said he wasn't completely satisfied after his start against Ottawa because, even though they won, there were two goals that got by him. None did on Tuesday. With two games remaining in the preseason, then, what's next on the agenda?
"The season comes closer every day here now. We're just trying to prepare," Lehner said. "Players, lines, everything, just trying to get that little extra gel together. I think it looks good so far."
Reinhart scores from his office
Sam Reinhart made his living in front of the net last season, and it was there that he earned his first goal of the preseason late in the second period. Jack Eichel won a battle forechecking in the corner and tossed a pass that skipped over Reinhart's stick to Nelson at the point. Reinhart immediately cut to the slot once he missed the pass, putting him in position to tip Nelson's shot into the net.
It was the first reunion of Reinhart and Eichel since the two got on a hot streak as linemates to end last season. Reinhart felt they were able to pick up where they left off, only now with rookie Alexander Nylander on their left wing.
"I felt like we played well," Reinhart said. "The ice wasn't as smooth and as crisp as we'd like it to be with a couple of passes, but we felt like we controlled the play for the most part and obviously with Jack back, it's a huge boost to myself and to the whole team."
Bylsma said he was particularly pleased with Eichel's preseason debut.
"I liked Jack a lot," Bylsma said. "I liked his game on both sides of the puck. He penalty killed tonight, we played him in faceoff situations and defensive zone. I liked the plays he made in the third period, strong on pucks, strong getting to the red line … We saw some flashes of offense from him as well."
Nic Deslauriers, the acrobat
The good people of Marquette had to wait until the second period to finally see a goal, but Deslauriers made up for it. He fired a one-time shot on a feed from Fasching, had the puck bounce back to him off a defender's stick and then fired another shot from his knees past Carolina goalie Cam Ward to give the Sabres a 1-0 lead.
The goal was initiated by another strong play from Fasching, who fought off Carolina defenseman Keegan Lowe to make a perfect pass to Deslauriers in the slot. Fasching's play down low has stood out through three preseason games.
"We've been talking about supporting, and I think on that play Fasch just supported [center Johan Larsson] pretty hard," Deslauriers said. "He gave it to me and I tried to one-tee it, it didn't work and it stayed on me and I got an empty net."
Deslauriers was at the center of things again later in the game when he laid a hard hit on Hurricanes Brendan Woods, prompting a scrum that ended up with Woods in the box serving a double minor. Woods happens to be the son of Sabres assistant coach Bob Woods, who was standing next to Bylsma at the time.
"I think the words were, 'He gets that from his mother,'" Bylsma said.
The rink was hot and the ice may have been a bit softer than they would've liked it to be, but it seemed like the Sabres enjoyed the atmosphere at Lakeview Arena. Just as they had earlier in the morning for the pregame skate, the locals filled the building and brought energy throughout the game.
"I think everyone to a man this morning and today talked about this being a place they played before," Bylsma said. "Whether it was here or back in their hometown, it felt like a place we've all played in our younger years."
Marquette was awarded hosting rights for this preseason game as well as $150,000 in arena upgrades as the 2016 Kraft Hockeyville USA grand-prize winner.
"It's not every day in the preseason when you got where they don't see an NHL game like this that often," Reinhart said. "It lets you know how lucky we are to have people like this, that come out and support us."
Coming up next
The Sabres will cross the border to play the Hurricanes again on Friday, this time at Essex Centre in Sault Ste. Marie, Ont. Ryan O'Reilly is expected to make his preseason debut for the Sabres. You can listen live on WGR 550. Dan Dunleavy and Rob Ray will be on the call.