Robin Lehner insists he holds no grudge against the Ottawa Senators. It's now been a season and a half since he was acquired by the Buffalo Sabres from his original organization in exchange for a first-round pick, and while he still has friends on the other side, he says he's left that trade in the past.
Still, Dan Bylsma has spoken before about the twinkle he sees in his goaltender's eyes when he suits up against his former team. Lehner's brought his best in games against Ottawa, and he did so again in a 37-save, 4-0 shutout of the Senators at KeyBank Center on Saturday night.
Lehner improved to 3-0-2 in seven career appearances against his former club, with a .961 save percentage and a 1.18 goals-against average.
"It's nice, for sure," Lehner said. "But I'm over it. This is the team I like and this is the team I play for. That's history."
Lehner entered the game coming off one of his best performances of this season against the New York Rangers on Thursday, a game in which he made a season-high 42 saves only to see the team lose 2-1 in overtime.
He was just as impressive on Saturday as he was in that game, only this he time he got the run support he needed and then some. Kyle Okposo and Ryan O'Reilly scored a goal apiece in the first and second periods respectively, and Jack Eichel fed Sam Reinhart and Marcus Foligno for goals in the third.
While the Sabres generally played a strong game defensively, there were some lapses. Buffalo was dominated early in the second period, at one point being outshot 8-1. They came out of that period with a 2-0 lead thanks to Lehner's ability to come up big when called upon.
He did it with his pad, like on this save against Tom Pyatt early in that second period.
Video: OTT@BUF: Lehner extends pad to turn Pyatt aside
He also did it with his glove, like on this shot from Mike Hoffman, who'd scored a total of four goals against Buffalo in three games already this season.
Video: OTT@BUF: Lehner flashes the leather to rob Hoffman
"I know him well," Lehner said, smiling. "Obviously playing with them a little bit I know a little bit of tendencies, a little bit where they're going to go. That's a little bit how my game is too, I do a lot of pre-scout, a lot of thinking out there. That's a big part of my game."
The shutout was Lehner's first of the season and the fourth of his career. It also snapped a three-game winless streak for the Sabres. As much as that zero on the score board might have meant for Lehner, that second part meant more.
Video: LEHNER: Postgame
"It's nice," Lehner said. "It's always nice. But I've got to be honest, every two points we get right now is a really good feeling. Every win we get. We've been on stretches, some stretches we haven't been consistent enough, some stretches we haven't scored goals, some stretches me and [fellow goalie Anders] Nilsson wish we came up with some more saves. Wins right now, it's a really good feeling."
Eichel's play pays off
Eichel was long overdue for a point by the time he finally notched an assist on Reinhart's goal in the third period. On that play, he rushed through the neutral zone and over the blue line, carrying the puck past multiple defenders as he drifted down low. He then made a perfect pass back to Reinhart, who cleaned up his own rebound off Senators goalie Mike Condon.
Video: OTT@BUF: Reinhart finishes own rebound in front
The play was reminiscent of the first period that was had by the line of Foligno, Eichel and Reinhart, when they made several plays that could have made the highlight reel had they resulted in a goal.
"It seems like we've had a good amount of opportunities as of late and whether it's bounces or not bearing own or what not, just not getting any results," Eichel said. "It's nice to get rewarded a little bit there."
Eichel earned his second point after falling to his knees and passing to Foligno later in the period. Foligno scored the goal that gave Buffalo its 4-0 lead and chased Condon with 9:09 remaining. Andrew Hammond replaced Condon in the Ottawa net.
"I thought Jack's line in particular was good in the offensive zone, had opportunities, had multiple opportunities," Bylsma said in reference to the first period. "You kind of want him to cash in. You want the hockey gods to be with you. You're playing the right way, you're playing in the offensive zone and you eventually just want it to translate into goals. It did in the third period."
An unsatisfying second
It's odd to hear following a 4-0 victory, but the first thing that both Lehner and O'Reilly brought up when speaking after the game was their dissatisfaction with the way the team played in that lopsided second period, even after O'Reilly was able to tip in a Rasmus Ristolainen shot to make the game 2-0.
O'Reilly said it was addressed during the intermission, and that played a part in Buffalo's two-goal third.
"I think in between the intermission after the second, not any one of us was happy with it even though the score was what we wanted," O'Reilly said. "We weren't happy, guys were a little upset with each other and we regrouped. We said we've got to come out, we've got to work, we've got to start winning battles. It's amazing, when we do that and we play simple we seem to find a way to win the game."
Players also pointed to Foligno's fight with Mark Borowiecki midway through that second period as a turning point for the team. Foligno took exception when he thought Borowiecki took a run at Eichel along the boards.
"I don't know if the guy took a run at me or not but it seemed like he did," Eichel said. "Whenever you have a teammate that comes to your back, it definitely means a lot and it seems like he does that a good amount. It says a lot about him as a teammate, that he's a guy that you want to have on your side. I think he just picks our bench up."
"It was an appropriate and a good response form Marcus, getting in there," Bylsma added. "It wasn't the first time that they had targeted Jack in the game and I thought it was a good move by Marcus to get in there. It did lift the team and it should've lifted the team."
Okposo notches No. 16
Okposo opened the scoring for the Sabres 10:11 into the contest, posting up on Marc Methot along the boards and spinning to free himself as he cut to the middle of the ice. Once he arrived in the slot, he buried a backhand shot past Condon for his team-leading 16th goal. Watch for yourself:
Video: OTT@BUF: Okposo roofs backhand after nice solo effort
If you feel like you've seen that spin move before, you have.
The Sabres will begin a back-to-back set with a road game against New Jersey on Monday night. It will be the third and final game between the two teams this season, with Buffalo looking to avoid being swept in the season series.
The following night, the Sabres will return home to KeyBank Center to host the reigning Western Conference champion San Jose Sharks.
Coverage on Monday begins at 6:30 p.m. with the Tops Pregame Show on MSG-B, or you can listen live on WGR 550. The puck drops between the Sabres and Devils at 7 p.m.