In a game highlighted by the return of the Buffalo Sabres’ franchise player, Jack Eichel, the team lost a player they feel is crucial to their future success.
With just over two minutes remaining in the first period of Tuesday night’s game against the Ottawa Senators, Sabres’ goaltender Robin Lehner left his net, seemingly with an injury to his left leg. Lehner briefly returned to the Buffalo bench in the second period, but the 25-year-old Swede quickly returned to the Sabres’ locker room, where he stayed for the rest of the game.
Fortunately, Lehner’s injury isn’t as severe as it first appeared. Buffalo head coach Dan Bylsma addressed the media after the game, telling reporters that Lehner is out “day-to-day” with a hip injury.
While Lehner may only be out for a couple of days, could his injury actually be a blessing in disguise for the Sabres? It’s never good to see a player go down, however, Lehner’s hip ailment may actually answer many questions that Buffalo fans have about the team’s goaltending situation.
Backup goalie Anders Nilsson will likely get a couple of starts in Lehner’s absence, something that many fans have been calling for lately. Objectively, Nilsson is having a stronger season than his fellow Swede. Albeit in the smaller sample size, Nilsson’s goals against average (2.20) and save percentage (.939) is better than Lehner’s numbers in those categories (2.40, .921). Also, despite playing in nine fewer games than Lehner, Nilsson has three wins, compared to Lehner’s five. Nilsson also has one shutout thus far this season, as many as Lehner has in his entire career in Buffalo.
Lehner’s injury may also see the call up of Linus Ullmark, perhaps Buffalo’s strongest young goaltender. Selected in the sixth round of the 2012 NHL Entry Draft, the 23-year-old has played 20 games for the Sabres, posting a record of 8-10-2 with respectable stats. Ullmark also has played well for the Rochester Americans this season (6-7-1), and has been one of the only constants in an ever-rotating roster. Lehner’s injury may see Ullmark’s promotion to the NHL.
Like him or not, Lehner is injury prone. He played just 21 games last season after suffering an ankle sprain in the team’s opening game. The fact that Lehner seemingly misses more games than he plays, and hasn’t particularly “wowed” in the games that he has participated in, may leave some wanting the Sabres to acquire a goalie from outside the organization.
If Lehner is to miss significant time, there are options. The Sabres could potentially sign 34-year-old Ray Emery, who has bounced around a number of teams for the past couple of years. The former Senators’ star could be a decent backup for the Sabres, but he would be just that–a backup. He would backup Nilsson until Lehner’s return, but would likely then be waived and ultimately released.
Another goaltender the Sabres could look to acquire through trade is Marc-Andre Fleury. The 32-year-old Stanley Cup winner still has what it takes to be a starting goaltender in the NHL after be ousted by 22 year old Matt Murray, who led the Penguins to the Stanley Cup last season. Buffalo could potentially acquire Fleury for cheap, but his contract is anything but. Fleury’s cap hit is $5,750,000.
While Sabres fans will be anxiously awaiting Lehner’s return, his injury could potentially answer a number of questions fans have about the team’s goaltending situation. Fans could see if Nilsson has what it takes to be the team’s starting goaltender, Linus Ullmark could prove that he has what it takes to compete in the NHL, and in a worst case scenario, Lehner’s injury could show that the team needs to call an audible on their goaltending vision.
Thankfully, Lehner’s injury is just day-to-day, and we should see the ill-tempered man return to the ice soon.