David Legwand

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A healthy Robin Lehner in net would boost Sabres playoff hopes

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This post is part of Buffalo Sabres day at PHT…

It seemed Robin Lehner‘s 2015-16 season was defined by two things.

— A) A skirmish involving him and Columbus Blue Jackets defenseman Jack Johnson. And judging by the replays, Lehner, the Buffalo Sabres goalie, was more than willing to have a go.

— B) A high-ankle sprain — a far more pressing issue than getting into a scrum and grabbing an opposing player — suffered in the first game of last season with his new team.

The ankle issue, which included a setback before he was able to finally return to the lineup, reached a pinnacle when the Sabres announced Lehner had undergone surgery and was done for the season.

By that time, Lehner had appeared in 21 games for the Sabres. He posted a 5-9-5 record and a .924 save percentage, eight points above his career average. Beyond that, his first season in Buffalo can be difficult to evaluate because an injury cut into three months, before he was shut down for good.

The Sabres paid a hefty price to bring the now 25-year-old Lehner to their team, which makes his health and his subsequent performance so important to their success, especially as they look to get beyond the rebuilding stage.

Last summer, Sabres GM Tim Murray sent a first-round pick to the Ottawa Senators to get Lehner — as well as veteran David Legwand — and bring in a goalie that could be the No. 1.

The Sabres have done a nice job of building their defense and top-six group of forwards, especially with the addition of Kyle Okposo in free agency and the acquisition of Ryan O'Reilly a year ago.

It helps, too, when a No. 2 overall pick can turn into Jack Eichel, and Okposo could play on a line with either Eichel or O’Reilly. Sam Reinhart had a strong first full season in Buffalo, breaking the 20-goal mark. And Alexander Nylander, the eighth overall pick this year, could perhaps make the jump to the NHL with a strong showing in the pre-season.

They didn’t make the playoffs last season, but improved dramatically on their point total, from 54 in 2014-15 to 81 in 2015-16. Their coach, Dan Bylsma, is setting the bar high for next season.

In goal, however, is where there are question marks.

The Sabres, right now, have Lehner, Anders Nilsson and Jason Kasdorf on their roster. Chad Johnson has moved on, signing in Calgary earlier this summer.

Nilsson and Kasdorf have combined for 53 games of NHL experience. One of those games belongs to Kasdorf, who signed a two-year, two-way deal with Buffalo in July.

Given their situation in goal, the Sabres need Lehner to stay healthy. Ideally, given the price they paid, the Sabres would love elite goaltending to be what defines Lehner’s upcoming season.

Sabres’ Fasching is ‘so excited’ to make his NHL debut on Saturday

Associated Press
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What a week for Sabres rookie Hudson Fasching. The 20-year-old signed his entry-level contract with the Sabres on Monday which is a thrill in itself and on Saturday, he’s going to make his NHL debut against the Winnipeg Jets.

“I’m so excited,” Fasching said, per the Buffalo News. “I’m almost speechless. It’s a dream come true for me.

“I’m not trying to overthink it too much is my strategy going into it. It’s something that I’ve dreamed of since I was a little kid, just to play in the NHL. I put a lot of hard work in. My family and I have sacrificed a lot to get here, so it means the world to me.”

Fasching was acquired from the Los Angeles Kings back in 2014. He’s spent the last three seasons at the University of Minnesota where he picked up 20 goals and 38 points in 37 games in 2015-16.

He’s a good skater, but Sabres head coach Dan Bylsma knows making the leap from the NCAA to the NHL won’t be easy. Fasching is expected to play on the right side of a line with David Legwand and Matt Moulson.

“There’s a possibility he’ll get some shifts in other spots,” Bylsma said. “I think the big thing to see will be an adjustment to the pace and the speed. He’s a good skater, but I think the pace is going to be an adjustment for him.”

Casey Nelson will also be making his NHL debut on Saturday. The defenseman signed with the Sabres earlier this week after spending the last three seasons at Minnesota State University. He’s expected to be paired with Mark Pysyk.

“Against some long odds, against some difficult situations he has carved out his game, has carved out his ability,” Bylsma said. “He’s gone from being a walk-on to a huge part of a team to one of the most sought-after free agents. He’s done that through hard work. He’s done that through development of his game.”

Video: Sabres’ Legwand scores from his own end on a one-hopper

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Sometimes you don’t get the bounces. Sometimes you do.

The Buffalo Sabres took a 2-0 lead on the Columbus Blue Jackets late in the first period of Friday’s game after David Legwand, with his team on the penalty kill, fired the puck from his own end, beating goalie Joonas Korpisalo on a wicked hop.

Legwand just casually lifted the puck down the ice, but it bounced just after the hashmarks, skipping to the left and fooling Korpisalo.

Report: Sabres ‘would listen’ to offers for Ennis

AP
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In terms of pending unrestricted free agents, the pickings are pretty slim on the Buffalo Sabres.

Jamie McGinn. David Legwand. Mike Weber. Chad Johnson. No disrespect to those four, but it wasn’t earth-shattering news when GM Tim Murray told ESPN.com that he’s looking to move some of his “veterans on expiring contracts” before the Feb. 29 trade deadline. Given where the Sabres are in the standings, that’s just obvious.

But according to ESPN’s Pierre LeBrun, the Sabres may also be willing to move Tyler Ennis. Or, as LeBrun put it, they “would listen” to offers.

Ennis, 26, is signed through 2018-19 for a cap hit of $4.6 million. Which is a pretty big cap hit for a winger with just three goals in 23 games. But then, he did lead the offensively challenged Sabres with 20 goals last season and 21 goals the season before.

It’s also worth noting that his five-year contract was front-loaded. In terms of actual salary, it’s only $3.65 million annually for the next three years, per war-on-ice.com.

Ennis is currently on injured reserve with an upper-body injury. His status is week-to-week.

Ekholm scores in OT, Predators beat Hurricanes 2-1

RALEIGH, N.C. (AP) Mattias Ekholm scored with 1:51 left in overtime to lift the Nashville Predators over the Carolina Hurricanes 2-1 on Saturday night.

Paul Gaustad tied the game for Nashville with a short-handed goal in the second period. Ekholm assisted and Gaustad got his first goal of the season.

Victor Rask put Carolina ahead 8:58 into the first with his 11th goal.

Nashville’s Pekka Rinne had 27 saves and Carolina’s Eddie Lack stopped 19.

In overtime, Ekholm corralled a deflected pass from Filip Forsberg, skated in on Lack and beat the goalie top shelf.

Nashville captain and defenseman Shea Weber played in his 724th game for the franchise, passing Martin Erat for second on the club’s career list. David Legwand played in 956 games.

Carolina’s Phil Di Giuseppe left with an upper-body injury in the second period and did not return. He assisted on Rask’s first-period goal.

Nashville coach Peter Laviolette coached the Hurricanes to the 2006 Stanley Cup, while his assistant Kevin McCarthy was an assistant with the Hurricanes from 1999-2009. The only remaining Carolina players from the 2006 team are captain Eric Staal and goalie Cam Ward.

Jeff Skinner assisted on Rask’s goal for his 21st point this season.

NOTES: The Predators had won the teams’ only other meeting of the season 2-1 in Nashville on Oct. 8. … Carolina visits Edmonton on Monday night in the first of a two-game Western Canada trip. … Nashville hosts Winnipeg on Tuesday night before heading on a four-game road trip. … Carolina C Jay McClement missed the game with an illness after playing in 198 consecutive contests. D Michal Jordan was a healthy scratch for the Hurricanes. … The Predators’ healthy scratches were LW Austin Watson and D Anthony Bitetto and D Petter Granberg.