Robin Lehner (Photo by Bill Wippert/NHLI via Getty Images)
Newly acquired goaltender Robin Lehner had to leave his first game with the Buffalo Sabres after getting his skate caught in a rut and spraining his ankle. How long he'll be out will likely determine whether Buffalo tries to trade for a goalie.
BUFFALO – Buffalo Sabres GM Tim Murray could be on the lookout for a goaltender after starter Robin Lehner went down with an ankle injury in the first game of the season and is expected to miss at least between two-to-four weeks, a layoff that could be longer once the team has a better chance of examining him.
Lehner was injured in the Sabres 3-1 loss to the Ottawa Senators Thursday night when he went out to play a puck behind the net and his skate hit a rut and he had to leave the game. He left the arena in a walking cast and was still wearing it when the Sabres practiced Friday morning.
One source said the Sabres are waiting until the swelling goes down to determine the severity of the injury, which they believe is a sprained right ankle. They were encouraged that much of the swelling was low in the ankle, meaning it likely is not a high ankle sprain, which is much more serious and has a longer recovery time. If it is a sprained ankle, Lehner is expected to miss two-to-four weeks. If more damage is discovered once the swelling goes down, the wait time could be longer.
And with backup Chad Johnson taking over the No. 1 job and not much help in the minors – with Linus Ullmark coming back from double hip surgery - Murray may need another goaltender. Sabres coach Dan Bylsma summed up the Sabres goaltending situation this way when asked whether Johnson would take over as the No. 1 goalie: “Considering we don’t have another goaltender at this point in time, let’s go with that.”
The obvious target would be the Calgary Flames, who are the only team in the league to have three goalies on their roster – Karri Ramo, Jonas Hiller and Joni Ortio. With about $9 million in cap space, more if Lehner has to go on long-term injury reserve, the Sabres are in a good position to pick up Hiller’s $4.5 million cap hit. But Murray may look to the Anaheim Ducks for help. One source said he has been trying to get prospect John Gibson since he took over in Buffalo, but Ducks GM Bob Murray said adamantly at the draft that the Ducks aren’t trading Gibson. That could leave backup Anton Khudobin, who was acquired by the Ducks this past summer from Carolina and has one year left on his deal at $2.25 million.
Bylsma said Lehner was as contrite as he was upset about being injured. “He was sorry,” Bylsma said. “He can’t be sorry for getting injured. It happened, but he’s sorry for getting injured and not having the opportunity to not be in the net.”
There’s a two-decade old movie that claims reality bites and nobody knows that better than the long-suffering sports fans in Buffalo. Take their hockey team, for instance. The Sabres endure two miserable years to put themselves in position to get a future superstar. That future superstar scores a goal in his first game, but in the same game they become the first team in history to have an offside goal called back on a coach’s challenge.
Even worse, the goaltender upon whom they’ve staked their future goes behind the net to get a puck and ends up in a walking cast. Then Ryan O’Reilly, the centerman to whom the Sabres will pay $58.7 million over the next eight seasons, sums up his first game as a Sabre by saying, “I was pretty much useless out there.”
That sound you heard from western New York was Sabres fans in unison moaning, “Here we go again.”
Mixed in with the optimism that comes with Jack Eichel and Evander Kane and a new attitude in Buffalo comes the reality that this is a team still very much in its growing stages. And their first game of the season was a clear reminder of that. The Sabres were badly outplayed for two periods before outshooting the Senators 14-4 in the third period, even after Kane’s goal was called back. Bylsma said he was proud of the way his team battled back and said the Sabres thought they were going to win the game in the third period.
“There’s a big process for us and how we play,” Bylsma said. “It’s not going to happen overnight. I respect how we played in the third period. I respect how we battled and how came on in the third. But it’s really just part of it. We have to develop that and we’re in the process of developing that and it’s something we’re clearly in the infancy stage of doing.”