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Under Pressure: Robin Lehner

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This post is part of Sabres Day on PHT…

Show me. Prove it. Make or break.

All three of those descriptors have been used to describe the season Robin Lehner‘s about to embark upon. And all three are fairly accurate.

The 26-year-old finds himself at a virtual career crossroads. Lehner’s biggest champion, ex-Sabres GM Tim Murray, is gone. Murray knew Lehner from their time together in Ottawa — Lehner helped AHL Binghamton win a Calder Cup in 2011 — and liked the big Swede enough to give up a first-round pick to acquire his services.

Murray’s replacement, Jason Botterill, didn’t acquire Lehner. He inherited him. And that could be why Botterill’s been somewhat hesitant in proclaiming Lehner as the club’s long-term No. 1. In May, Botterill offered a lukewarm vote of confidence, then went out and signed Chad Johnson on the opening day of free agency.

In late July, Botterill furthered the “show me” narrative by inking Lehner to a one-year, $4 million extension.

That contract came on the heels of an up-and-down ’16-17 campaign, one in which Lehner posted career highs in games played (59) and finished with a solid .920 save percentage. And that was on underachieving Sabres club, playing behind a suspect blueline.

Granted, Lehner’s play was erratic at times. And his trademark intensity was on display on several occaions — and not necessarily in a good way.

More: Fiery Lehner won’t apologize for being fiery

But there’s something to be said for a guy that finished 12th among goalies in save percentage while playing for one of the worst teams in the league. There’s also promise for the future, given Lehner is still reasonably young and responded well to his first full NHL workload.

Really, this season will come down to meeting expectations.

The bar has been raised in Buffalo, and there’s a level of excitement — franchise legend Phil Housley is behind the bench, and there have been significant additions (Marco Scandella, Nathan Beaulieu, Viktor Antipin) on defense. The team is no doubt looking to crack the 90-point plateau after posting 81 and 78 in the two seasons prior, and wants to make a push for the playoffs.

So it’ll be fascinating to see how Lehner responds.

Don’t forget to add Johnson’s presence into the equation. He started 36 games for a Calgary team that made the playoffs last year and acquitted himself quite well, holding down the No. 1 gig when Brian Elliott struggled. It’s also worth noting that Johnson is returning to the city where he had his greatest NHL success — in ’15-16, he posted career highs across the board in Buffalo, making 45 starts, winning 22 games and finishing with a .920 save percentage.

“I think the fans really embraced me by the end of the season,” Johnson said upon inking his one-year, $2.5 million deal, per the News. “They got to see what kind of goalie I was. I won a lot of games and had good numbers. To be able to come back and be a part of the organization again and have that drive to win and get back in playoffs is special for me.

“I always felt like there was unfinished business.”

There’ll be plenty of things to watch in Buffalo this season, but the battle between the pipes might be the most intriguing of all.

Rangers’ Kreider fractures foot vs. Flyers

Chris Kreider #20 of the New York Rangers
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New York Rangers forward Chris Kreider suffered a fractured foot against the Philadelphia Flyers Friday.

The alternate captain blocked a shot from Philippe Myers with 7:40 remaining in the opening period. He played one more shift for 10 seconds before heading to the locker room. The Rangers have not provided a timeline for the injury.

New York signed Chris Kreider to a $45.5 million, seven-year extension prior to the trade deadline. The 28-year-old power forward has 24 goals and 21 assists in 63 games this season.


Scott Charles is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @ScottMCharles.

Robin Lehner to make Golden Knights debut; Mark Stone injured

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The Vegas Golden Knights have been one of the league’s hottest teams over the past month and will be looking to extend their current winning streak to eight games on Friday night when they host the Buffalo Sabres.

Coach Pete DeBoer had some significant lineup news ahead of the game on Friday afternoon, including a potentially significant injury.

First, is the news that big trade deadline acquisition Robin Lehner will be making his first start in goal for the team. The Golden Knights acquired Lehner from the Chicago Blackhawks just ahead of the NHL trade deadline on Monday for a draft pick and a prospect. Lehner has been one of the league’s best goalies for the past two years and alongside Marc-Andre Fleury should give them one of the league’s best goaltending duos.

The far more serious news, though, was the announcement that forward Mark Stone will not play on Friday due to a lower-body injury.

DeBoer had no immediate information on how long Stone could be out, only to say that he is still being evaluated.

When asked if it could potentially be a long-term injury DeBoer said “There’s always fear. We don’t know, but we’ll see,” via NHL.com.

Stone is one of the league’s best all-around forwards and has not only been a point-per-game player for the past three seasons, he is also one of the best defensive forwards in the league. He finished the 2018-19 season as the top runner-up for the Selke Trophy, something that has become almost unheard of for a winger.

The Golden Knights enter Friday’s game in first place in the Pacific Division, four points ahead of the Edmonton Oilers and Vancouver Canucks.

Related: Blackhawks trade Robin Lehner to Golden Knights

Adam Gretz is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @AGretz.

 

Oilers’ Mike Green to miss 3-4 weeks with sprained MCL

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Edmonton Oilers general manager Ken Holland was busy at the NHL trade deadline adding Mike Green, Andreas Athanasiou, and Tyler Ennis to his roster in an effort to improve its depth. But just two games later his team has already lost one of those new players to injury.

The Oilers announced on Friday that Green, acquired from the Detroit Red Wings for Kyle Brodziak and a draft pick, will be sidelined for the next 3-4 weeks due to an MCL sprain.

That is the way things seem to be going for the Oilers right now as injuries keep adding up throughout their roster.

Green joins an injury list that already includes the team’s top defenseman (Oscar Klefbom), as well as James Neal, Kailer Yamamoto, and Kris Russell.

Green played 19 minutes in the Oilers’ 3-0 loss to the Vegas Golden Knights on Wednesday.

Athanasiou was also injured in that game, but is expected to play on Saturday when the Oilers host the Winnipeg Jets.

The Oilers enter the weekend in third place in the Pacific Division with 74 points, four points back of Vegas and only two points ahead of the non-playoff teams in the Western Conference.

Related: Red Wings send Mike Green to Oilers

Adam Gretz is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @AGretz.

Report: Islanders will play all home games at Nassau Coliseum in 2020-21

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March 22 will be the final Islanders’ game at Brooklyn’s Barclays Center, according to Newsday.

Randi Marshall reports that New York governor Andrew Cuomo will announce on Saturday that the Islanders will play any home playoff games this season and all of their 2020-21 home schedule at Nassau Coliseum.

The Islanders are currently building a new arena by Belmont Park race track which is expected to be ready in time for the 2021-22 NHL season. The franchise played all of its home games at the Coliseum from 1972-2015 before moving to Brooklyn full-time in 2015. That lasted until 2018 when they split home games at both arenas, with Nassau Coliseum playing host to their Round 1 matchup against the Penguins and Barclays for their second round series against the Hurricanes.

While Barclays Center helped keep the Islanders in New York, it has not been the easiest arena to travel to for fans. The ability to get there via mass transit was a positive that the Coliseum doesn’t have. Yet when the Islanders returned back to Long Island last season, there was plenty nostalgia over the building that was home for the franchise’s glory days.

In September the Islanders broke ground on the new 19,000-seat arena by Belmont Park which is less than 10 miles from Nassau Coliseum.

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Sean Leahy is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @Sean_Leahy.