“A little tired right now,” Lehner said following practice Thursday. “Some nerves. But excitement is the best word I can think of.”
Lehner was back on the ice in Buffalo some 12 hours after stopping 35 shots in AHL Rochester’s 4-0 loss at Albany. The game capped a three-game minor-league conditioning assignment for the goalie, who had been sidelined since spraining his right ankle in the Sabres 3-1 season-opening loss to Ottawa on Oct. 8.
Lehner went 1-2 and allowed 10 goals.
Without saying when, coach Dan Bylsma said there's a good chance Lehner will play this weekend. Buffalo plays consecutive home games against Boston on Friday and Washington on Saturday
``I feel like I'm ready. Is it going to be perfect? I don't know,'' Lehner said, noting that he's still experiencing soreness. ``But I'm going to do my best.''
The injury was a setback for Lehner, who was looking forward to a fresh start after the Sabres gave up a first-round draft pick to acquire him in a trade with Ottawa in June.
What made it worse is the injury occurred after Lehner missed the final two months of last season because of a concussion. Lehner then became expendable in Ottawa after minor-league call-up Andrew Hammond took over the starting job and helped the Senators reach the playoffs.
It has been nearly a calendar year since Lehner played a complete game – a 25-save performance in Ottawa's 7-2 win over Edmonton on Feb. 14.
``It was a little crushing in the beginning of this year, But I went through it,'' Lehner said. ``I'm not supposed to sit at home and come in and work out. That's not what I'm made for. I like to play hockey. It's nice to be able to do that again.''
Though somewhat disappointed in his numbers in Rochester, Lehner said he used the playing time as a chance to refine his game.
``I just wanted to get back to being a goalie here, see pucks, start working on some details, make some mistakes so I can correct those mistakes,'' he said. ``I feel like I made strides in a very short period of time.''
Lehner will get the benefit of having additional time to recover. The Sabres (17-22-4) have seven more games before getting eight days off between games over the NHL All-Star break.
Minus Lehner, Buffalo went with a two-goalie rotation of backup Chad Johnson and rookie Linus Ullmark, who was demoted to Rochester on Thursday.
Johnson has a 10-12-2 record, while Ullmark went 7-10-2, including wins in his final two games.
The 24-year-old Lehner has a 30-36-13 career record and 2.88 goals-against average since being selected by the Senators in the second round of 2009 draft.