Entering this season Robin Lehner was a big question mark for the Buffalo Sabres. He struggled with an ankle injury in his first season with the Sabres after being acquired for a first round pick at the 2015 NHL Draft from the Ottawa Senators. In only playing 21 games during the 2015-16 season,
In only playing 21 games during the 2015-16 season, Lehner had a lot of people to prove his worth this season. He was heading into a contract year and had the pressure of the first round pick price tag hanging over his head. It was questioned whether the 25-year old was dedicated enough to the game to be a number one goaltender. Also, if he could remain healthy over the strain of playing 60 games and produce at a consistent level over that stretch.
This season Lehner has proven to his skeptics that he is a number one goaltender in the NHL. He’s remained healthy this season and has been one of the bright spots for a team that has underperformed for the most part. Not only has the native of Sweden taken steps on the ice to prove his ability, but he’s done so off the ice as well. Lehner has become an important voice and leader in the room. He’s not afraid to take on the pressure that comes along with that role either.
I’m over the pressure thing with what happened the first couple years in the league, now it’s just stop the next puck and try to do your job.
Putting up the Numbers
Lehner has played 54 games thus far and has consistently given his team the opportunity to win games. He’s stolen games for his hockey club and has also kept them in games in which they were getting run over. Entering play on Monday night he has a .922 save percentage which is tied for eighth in the league among goaltenders who have played at least 20 games.
With two more wins, this season he’ll have the most wins for a Sabres goaltender since Ryan Miller in the 2011-12 season. Lehner is also on pace to have the highest save percentage in a season for a Sabres goalie who’s played the majority of the team’s games since Miller’s .929 save percentage back in the 2009-10 campaign. The Sabres’ goaltending situation hasn’t necessarily been filled with great talent since Miller’s departure in 2014. With that being said, once you start getting into the conversation with one of the best goaltenders in franchise history, you’re putting together a pretty good year.
The most impressive part for Lehner is how he’s putting up good numbers with arguably one of the worst defensive groups in the league in front of him.
It’s no secret that the Sabres defense has been a disappointment this season and is in need of an overhaul this summer. Lehner has faced the third-most shots in the league entering play Monday with 1,778 against. This equates out to 33 shots per game that he’s faced this season. That’s tied for the highest amount of shots faced per game with Mike Smith of the Arizona Coyotes and fellow Sabres goaltender Anders Nilsson.
While the majority of Lehner’s stats are at the league average or above, his goals-against average of 2.64 is not. He currently sits 26th in the NHL in that category. That can be directly correlated to a number of pucks sent his way per game. Playing behind a better defensive unit could see that number rise next season into the top 10 in the league.
If there’s one area in Lehner’s game that could seek improvement to be considered one of the top goaltenders in the NHL, it’s his high danger save percentage. The top goalies in the league make the big saves consistently when their teams need it. To make my point, Sergei Bobrovsky and Carey Price lead the league in high danger save percentage among goalies with at least 20 games played according to Corsica. Lehner’s numbers in this category have improved since earlier this season, but he’s still near the bottom with a 78.63 save percentage. The Columbus Blue Jackets’ Sergei Bobrovsky meanwhile, is at the top with an 86.32 save percentage on high danger shots.
Becoming a Voice
Lehner has not only stepped his game up on the ice but has become a bigger voice off the ice. He’s not a guy that is afraid to say what is on his mind. We saw that this past week with his comments on the suspension of Rasmus Ristolainen.
It feels like Lehner has stepped up as a leader in the locker room. He’s given his honest assessment of the performance of the team throughout the season and that includes his own play when he hasn’t played well. He has the reputation of being a fiery player on the ice who isn’t afraid to protect his crease if the need arises. He’s a passionate player that really wants to win and that passion spills into his post game comments most nights.
— Matthew Bové (@Matt_Bove) March 24, 2017
Lehner really stepped into the spotlight in the middle of February when he went off after a loss to the Vancouver Canucks on the immaturity of the club and disrespect he felt was being shown towards the coaching staff. He followed those statements up by having perhaps one of his best stretches of the season. His play on the ice has gone hand in hand with the ability to speak openly about a season that has come in well under the expectations of the organization.
Reality is going to come real quick if we don’t figure it out.
Miller was the same type of player during his time in Buffalo. Lehner hasn’t reached that status yet, but Miller was the face of the franchise. He would usually say how he really felt and wasn’t afraid to call out the team for bad performances. Miller was one of the primary leaders in the Sabres’ room during his tenure and Lehner seems to be following that path.