|Robin Lehner turned in a pair of strong back-to-back goaltending outings on the wekend in helping the Binghamton Senators push closer to an AHL playoff berth, including a shutout of the Wilkes-Barren/Scranton Penguins (Andre Ringuette/Freestyle Photography/OSHC).
His first season of professional hockey hasn't gone anywhere near exactly as planned.
But Robin Lehner
's game appears to be right where the Binghamton Senators need it to be as they continue their late-season drive to end a five-year American Hockey League playoff drought.
With workhorse goaltender Barry Brust sidelined by injury, the B-Sens turned to Lehner for a pair of huge games at Broome County Veterans Memorial Coliseum on the weekend. The Swedish stopper responded by turning aside all 31 saves he faced Friday night in a 3-0 blanking of the league's top team, the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins. The following evening, he blocked another 32 shots as Binghamton dumped the Providence Bruins 4-1.
The two wins marked Lehner's first appearances between the pipes for the B-Sens since he was sidelined with back spasms after a March 9 road loss. Clearly, he's recovered well from that ailment.
"It was important to me because I worked really hard to get back from the injury," Lehner told the Binghamton Press & Sun-Bulletin
after recording his third shutout of the season in the win over Wilkes-Barre/Scranton. "It's important for me to feel like the group knows what I can do, so I can go in and relieve Brusty a little bit, too. Every game is important, and I think it's a big for the guys to know that we have two good goaltenders that can help them win games.
"I think that's what makes a good team really good. It was just a huge win for us to start out the weekend."
Mike Brodeur capped it off with a 38-save performance in Sunday's 4-1 road triumph over the Springfield Falcons that extended Binghamton's current winning streak to six games. It was his first action since Feb. 4 and gave further evidence of the goaltending depth the B-Sens now have at their disposal.
"We won with Barry on Wednesday (over the Syracuse Crunch)," said Binghamton head coach Kurt Kleinendorst. "Then we won with Lehner on Friday and Saturday and Brodeur went in on Sunday. We had three goalies that all got a win last week."
At the season's outset, Kleinendorst expected to have Lehner and Brodeur as his goaltending tandem. But injuries in both Binghamton and with the big club in Ottawa put the ball in Brust's hands and he's been a big-time saviour for the team, posting a 28-17-1 record with a 2.56 goals-against average and .925 save percentage.
"Robin was probably as good as he’s been all year back-to-back. He played really well on Friday and then he came back on Saturday — which anybody can tell you is not always easy to do — and he showed us what his potential really is. It’s been a real challenging year for him, but I thought he rose up last weekend and showed us what he’s capable of doing." - Kurt Kleinendorst
"We’re very thankful for Barry," said Kleinendorst. "That was a great signing by Tim (Murray, the Senators' assistant general manager). Barry has been very good for us and he’s been the one constant that we’ve had this year with all the ups and all the downs and all the player movement ... We’ve had some stability in net with Barry."
Lehner, meanwhile, really hasn't had a chance to get rolling in Binghamton. Twice this season, he found himself in Ottawa on extended callups because of injuries to Pascal Leclaire. But with veterans Craig Anderson
and Curtis McElhinney now in the fold with the big club — and with Brust sidelined for a crucial set of weekend games — the organization's top goaltending prospects flourished when it matteredthe most.
"Robin was probably as good as he’s been all year back-to-back," Kleinendorst said of Lehner's play over the weekend. "He played really well on Friday and then he came back on Saturday — which anybody can tell you is not always easy to do — and he showed us what his potential really is. It’s been a real challenging year for him, but I thought he rose up last weekend and showed us what he’s capable of doing."
Binghamton heads into weekend action with a seven-point lead over the Worcester Sharks in the race for crossover playoff berth in the Eastern Conference playoff berth. The B-Sens' magic number to clinch a post-season spot is down to five points, a number they can secure on their own this weekend with games Friday in Syracuse, Saturday at home against the Bridgeport Sound Tigers and Sunday at the Albany Devils.
"If all goes well and we take care of business from our end, we can clinch after our game on Sunday," said Kleinendorst. "But we’re not going to rely on anybody to help us. We’re just going to take the approach that it’s in our hands and let’s just get it done."Down on the farm
The B-Sens' current hot streak has been mirrored by a number of standout offensive performances. Kaspars Daugavins
(3-4-7), Andre Benoit (3-4-7), Corey Locke (3-4-7), Jim O’Brien (2-5-7) and Roman Wick (2-4-6) are all operating at a point per game clip or better during the six-game run ... Daugavins' goal against Syracuse was his 100th career AHL point ... Defenceman Eric Gryba
suffered a severe high-ankle sprain over the weekend and Kleinendorst told reporters in Binghamton today that he's likely out for an extended period ... Six current Ottawa Senators are eligible to return to the B-Sens for the post-season: forwards Zack Smith
, Colin Greening
, Erik Condra
and Bobby Butler
, and defencemen David Hale and Patrick Wiercioch