An interesting storyline emerged between the pipes for the Buffalo Sabres following the early practice session of Training Camp at First Niagara Center.
Goaltender Robin Lehner announced that he will start in net against the Ottawa Senators on Wednesday, meaning his Sabres debut will come against the team that traded him over the summer.
The Sabres’ top lines of Evander Kane, Ryan O’Reilly and Tyler Ennis and Jamie McGinn, Sam Reinhart and Brian Gionta will also make their preseason debuts, according to Sabres coach Dan Bylsma.
Most of the players who played in the victory over Minnesota on Monday, including Jack Eichel, will not play.
Puck drop is scheduled for 7 p.m. The game can be heard live on WGR 550 with Brian Duff and Rob Ray on the call. The game will air on NHL Network on Wednesday at 10:30 p.m. and will be shown again Thursday at noon and 5 p.m.
Lehner played 86 games over parts of five seasons with the Senators. He’ll play two periods on Wednesday prior to being relieved by Andrey Makarov, marking his first game action since sustaining a season-ending concussion in February that all but ended his hopes of claiming Ottawa’s starting job.
Coming off of that injury, the goaltender said that he’s not setting high expectations for his first outing other than to simply get back into the routine of game action.
“Honestly, just go out and start getting in games,” he said. “I have no expectations really, I want to win like always, but also realize that camp is a little different for me this year, getting back into things and getting back into games and game situations. I feel really good in practice and felt good last scrimmage but every day, [I feel] a little bit better.”
If you’re sitting close enough, you might get a chance to hear Lehner, too. Throughout Training Camp, teammates have praised the goaltender’s loquaciousness in net as an asset to their communication on the ice.
“I try to be a third eye for our defensemen,” Lehner said. “Talking in our own zone is an important part of our game going forward, especially [because] we’ve got a lot of young guys. We’re trying to be a good defensive team and it all starts with communication. I try to help them out a little bit.”
Bylsma, too, noted Lehner’s communication as one of his most standout qualities thus far.
“He’s the most vocal goalie that I’ve been on the ice with. I’m getting used to that, [it’s] weird, I’m always wondering who the heck’s talking out there on the ice. It’s Robin all the time,” Bylsma said. “I think [it helps] a ton. We talk about it all the time, communication. You’re always looking to get more of it from your players and Robin’s now a guy who’s talking to his D-men … his voice is like his size, it’s big.”
While Lehner admitted it will be strange to play against his former team, it shouldn’t take long for him to get adjusted – the Sabres open their regular season at home against Ottawa on Oct. 8, and Lehner could very well be the starting goalie in that contest.
REINHART’S EXPERIENCE TRANSLATING IN PRACTICE
Sam Reinhart had a strong summer while playing alongside his fellow Sabres prospects, but it remained to be seen how that improvement would translate to playing again with the NHL team. Reinhart was sent back to develop in junior last season after playing nine games in Buffalo to open the season.
Five days into camp, Reinhart said he is already seeing a difference.
“I think there’s a lot that I built on. I think maturity and experience go a long way in this league especially, so I think the pace and skating has improved and I feel a lot more comfortable with that,” he said.
Reinhart’s veteran teammates agree. Coaches lauded Reinhart’s ability to see the game as it develops during the Prospects Challenge, and so far it’s translating in practice and in scrimmages.
“He’s progressed a lot,” said Sabres captain Brian Gionta, who’s shared a line with Reinhart throughout camp. “It’s just in his overall speed, not just in his straight-ahead skating speed but the way plays progress and how quickly he’s making decisions and stuff like that. He’s gonna be a special player.”
The next step for Reinhart is to utilize his intelligence and apply it to, as Bylsma calls it, a “big man’s game.” He’ll have that chance against Ottawa on Wednesday.
“He’s got to be able to skate and he’s got to be able to play with size in that game,” Bylsma said. “I’ve seen his intelligence and I think you continue to see his intelligence and his hockey sense but he’s got to be able to do it playing at a high level and out there with other men.”