“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.