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Lehner sees chance to help 'keep the team rolling'

by Rob Brodie / Ottawa Senators
Robin Lehner sees his latest callup from the Binghamton Senators as a chance to keep the big club in Ottawa rolling while starter Craig Anderson lets a hand injury mend (Photo by Andre Ringuette/NHLI via Getty Images).

Robin Lehner hardly knows yet exactly how wide the door has just opened for him.

But the Ottawa Senators' top goaltending prospect sees his latest callup to the National Hockey League for exactly what it is — a chance to help the team keep piling up the wins.

"It's always a good opportunity when you're up here," the 20-year-old Lehner said earlier today after being summoned from the Binghamton Senators in the wake of the hand injury suffered by Craig Anderson that will sideline the Ottawa starter indefinitely.

"If I see the ice, I've just got to try to do my best and try to help the team (stay) on a roll. I've been watching them a lot and they've had great success with Andy and (Alex Auld). I've just got to try to get the chance and keep it rolling."

Auld, the Senators' backup, will get the call Saturday when the Northeast Division-leading Boston Bruins visit Scotiabank Place (7 p.m., CBC, Team 1200). But with the New York Islanders in town Sunday for the back end of a weekend of back-to-back games, it's possible Lehner might make his second NHL start of the season in a few days. Back on Oct. 30, he backstopped Ottawa to a 3-2 home-ice win over the Toronto Maple Leafs.

"I believe when he comes here, he's a different person," said Senators general manager Bryan Murray. "He works real hard and he plays real hard, and we know he can play in the NHL. We've seen him do that. He's a big guy with good athletic ability. We know we can put him in and we'll have a chance to win."

They've also seen plenty of evidence that Lehner can win the biggest games of them all. He wasn't the starter when Binghamton entered the American Hockey League playoffs a year ago but by the first week of June, the B-Sens were hoisting the Calder Cup and Lehner was named the most valuable player of the post-season.

The native of Goteborg, Sweden, arrived at Senators training camp in September aiming to challenge for the backup job with the big club. But Ottawa management decided Lehner would be better served playing 60-plus games with the B-Sens and being the cornerstone of another playoff contender there. It hasn't exactly worked out that way.

With about six weeks left in the season, the B-Sens reside in the East Division basement and will be hard pressed to make it back to the post-season. Lehner is 8-16-1 with a 3.38 goals-against average, though his last start earlier this week was impressive — he stopped 36 of 38 shots he faced as Binghamton whipped the Portland Pirates 6-2.

"It's been a tough season for all of us down there," said Lehner, a second-round pick (46th overall) by the Senators in the 2009 NHL Entry Draft. "It hasn't been what we all wanted it to be. We're a young team, we've had some injuries, but it's the way it is."

Perhaps it's rather telling that there are almost as many members of last season's Calder Cup championship team now in Ottawa than there currently are still in Binghamton. While Lehner clearly stepped up his game when it mattered in the playoffs a year ago, his education as a professional has hardly stopped during the current campaign's struggles.

"Everything you go through helps you now," Lehner said when asked if last season's Calder Cup experience might come in handy now during a critical stretch in Ottawa. "Yesterday is going to help me now, everything you go through. And I've gone through a lot. I've gone through walls and (made it) through them. It's all good experience.

"It's the same thing everywhere — goalies and players go through rough times. I had a seven-game losing streak through the middle of this season. It's tough. It was my first really long losing streak and it's tough mentally. You want to win for the team. It's so much more fun and you're not as miserable. I learned a lot and it doesn't affect my goal."

The stretch that lies ahead should provide another step on the path to the NHL. It's one that the Senators hoped to afford Lehner right from the season's outset, though they hardly imagined it would come this way.

"In the second half of the year, we really hoped we could get him some games," said Murray. "We didn't know where we'd be in the standings, but we're a little better than we anticipated at this point, so we held off on doing that. And Craig was having such a good run. But as I said to him this morning, things happen and you get a chance."

And now that the moment is here, Lehner deflects any thought that it comes with pressure.

"I don't see it," he said. "That's not my thing, really. I want to do the best I can for the team if I get an opportunity. I respect all the guys up here and I'm just going to do my best to keep them rolling."

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