Robin Lehner's wait is over. The goalie was first off the ice at the Buffalo Sabres' morning skate and announced afterward that he'll make his second start for the team – and his first in the NHL since Oct. 8 – against the Boston Bruins on Friday at First Niagara Center.
"It's mostly excitement right now," he said. "Excited to get in the game and do my job, but yeah, it's been a long time coming. It's going to be fun."
Lehner will look to help the Sabres win their third game in a row after back-to-back road wins against Winnipeg and Minnesota. It's a fresh start to the season for him; not just mentally, but physically too when you consider the amount of time he was unable to skate after sustaining a high ankle sprain during the second period of the season opener.
"He worked out diligently, he spent a lot of time in the gym the best way he could, but not being on his feet, it's really been a process of Training Camp," Sabres coach Dan Bylsma said. "He's had seven full practices and used the conditioning stint in Rochester to get some game time in the net, three games, much like you would in preseason and were almost starting at the beginning of the season per say for Robin."
Back when the team actually was in Training Camp and Lehner was just starting out in Buffalo, much of the talk surrounding him was about how vocal he was on the ice. Bylsma said he hadn’t ever heard a goalie talk so much, and the team's defensemen spoke about what a help it was to them.
"In practice, in preseason, he's talking," defenseman Josh Gorges said. "When you're going back for pucks you're always hearing information, he's very into the game, not every goalie is like that, but I think we're fortunate here that our goalies are and he probably – again this is little time of experience – but he probably speaks the most and that helps us out as D-men."
"He talks a lot on and off the ice, so I got used to it," Rasmus Ristolainen said. "But yeah, he's a good goalie and he plays the puck well so it's going to be a huge help for us."
The rest of the lineup on Friday, Bylsma said, will be a game-time announcement. Defenseman Mark Pysyk is healthy and cleared to play, but Bylsma did not announce whether or not his return would come against Boston.
The three defensive pairs from Buffalo's last two victories – Gorges and Ristolainen, Jake McCabe and Zach Bogosian and Mike Weber Cody Franson – remained the same in line rushes on Friday morning while Pysyk skated on a pair with Carlo Colaiacovo.
"We've won with our lineup and, for the most part, liked our six defensemen in those games," Bylsma said. "[Pysyk is] not going to have to wait for a loss to get in though."
LOOKING FOR THREE
After the Sabres erased a two-goal deficit in the third period and ultimately rallied to a 6-3 win in Boston on Dec. 26, Jack Eichel (who had four points in that game) said that the team "likes to make things interesting." They've shied away from that philosophy in their last two wins, scoring five combined first-period goals to jump out to early leads in each contest.
Buffalo enters the game nine points back from Boston, who currently sits in the second Wild Card spot.
"We got two in a row now and obviously they're a good team," Eichel said. "It seems like the East is pretty tight right now; it seems like if you go on a run, you win a few in a row, you're putting yourself right back in the picture and that's what we want to do now."
While the Sabres are looking to ascend in the standings, the Bruins come into Buffalo looking to stop their quick descent. They've lost three games in a row and have just two wins in their last 10 contests. David Krejci, who ranks third on the team with 33 points, is on injured reserve with an upper-body injury and has missed the last seven games.
"We know it's going to be a tough game, we know they're a desperate team right now and obviously we are too," Eichel said. "You want to make a push before this All-Star break and it's going to be a big game for us tonight and we're going to need to have our best."
9 Evander Kane – 90 Ryan O'Reilly – 88 Jamie McGinn
28 Zemgus Girgensons – 15 Jack Eichel – 23 Sam Reinhart
82 Marcus Foligno – 22 Johan Larsson – 12 Brian Gionta
26 Matt Moulson – 59 Tim Schaller – 17 David Legwand
4 Josh Gorges – 55 Rasmus Ristolainen
29 Jake McCabe – 47 Zach Bogosian
6 Mike Weber – 46 Cody Franson
40 Robin Lehner
31 Chad Johnson