You've got to hand it to him. In his first *full* game against his old team, Robin Lehner put on a performance until the very last millisecond, making 23 (!) consecutive stops in the 3rd period, including two at the buzzer, and getting an assist (!) to give the Sabres a 3-2 victory.
The game didn't start so well for the Senators, as the Sabres spent much of their opening shifts in the offensive zone and quickly started piling up the shot attempts. You could start to see the skill and speed of the team's two young centres, Eichel and Girgensons, as they entered the zone with control and doubled back instead of dumping the puck in.
Despite this, though, it was Captain Karlsson who struck first. The play started in the defensive zone, with Karlsson executing a pristine stretch pass to Shane Prince in stride. Prince strutted into the zone with confidence and control, with the puck eventually ending up on Chris Neil's stick. Neil shovels it onto Lehner and Karlsson, one of the many Senators crashing the crease, pots his 11th of the year. The game slowed down quite a bit here thanks to a lengthy coaches challenge by Dan Bylsma and co. but the call wasn't overturned. Want more good news? The goal extended Mika Zibanejad's point streak to six games (7 points) and continued the superlative play of 4th line wingers Prince and Neil.
GIF: EK65 opens the scoring. pic.twitter.com/vT7ahP6VYX— Ottawa Senators (@Senators) January 27, 2016
The Sabres got it back just a couple minutes later off a miscue from... you guessed it. Cowen makes a soft play on the puck while trying to control it at his defensive blueline, and flubs a bank pass back that fools Anderson. Evander Kane, ever the swift skater, was in on Anderson in a hurry and easily poked it by the Sens 'tender to knot the game at 1 with *his* 11th of the year.
Much of the remainder of the period was played to a standstill, with the only items of note being a spirited tilt between WHL boys Zack Smith and Zack Bogosian, as well as a well-executed penalty kill on a Curtis Lazar hooking minor. Shots on net ended up at 13-7 Buffalo, on the back of a strong opening effort and Eichel's line taking advantage of a poor matchup with Puempel - Pageau - Stone.
It was a sloppy second period for both teams, with only four shots on net recorded between the two in the first 10 minutes of the period thanks to a neutral zone chess match and a ton of dump-ins. The Senators are the first to strike, though, and again, it's off the strong play of Shane Prince. Instead of dumping the puck in while his linemates are on a change, Prince carries the puck into the offensive boards, absorbs contact from two Sabres, and battles for the puck along the right boards. Mika Zibanejad, fresh off the bench, comes by to assist and wins the puck, getting it back to Prince who cycles it up to Cody Ceci. Ceci, who has looked better in the offensive zone lately with 4 points in his last 5 games, walks the line with a bouncing puck before firing it on net. Lehner is unable to handle the rebound and Bobby Ryan goes stick-to-skate to tap home is 18th of the year, tying his goal output from last season with 32 games remaining. Despite middling possession numbers, Ryan is still on pace for 30 goals this season -- a welcomed addition to the Senators offensive threats.
GIF: Nifty move from Ryan to take it out of his skates before picking the far corner. pic.twitter.com/ABU1DqgkFX— Ottawa Senators (@Senators) January 27, 2016
Until this point in the period, the Senators had done a decent job, holding the Sabres without a shot for ~12 minutes. Unfortunately, that came to an abrupt end after Mike Hoffman slashed Cody Franson to send the Sabres to the powerplay. After a ton of shot attempts but no cigars, the Senators clear the puck and decide to go on a line change. Unfortunately for them, Robin Lehner learned how to do a stretch pass from former Sens 'tender Ben Bishop, and the Swedish netminder cuts off the puck and sends it quickly to Jack Eichel. Eichel then takes advantage of Jared Cowen by getting the inside position and using his strong skating ability to stay tight to the net, and beats Anderson on the wraparound to tie the game at 2. Lehner's assist matches Mark Borowiecki's season assist total in just 5 games.
Eichel goal pic.twitter.com/IJzxPVXhdv— Stephanie (@myregularface) January 27, 2016
Shots on net ended up at 7 a piece in the second, giving the Sabres a 20-14 edge heading into the third.
Did I mention that the Sabres were on a back-to-back? Well, the third seems like a good time to mention it. The period starts off horrendously for the Senators, with a lackluster effort to clear ending up with another fluttering puck on Craig Anderson that's jarred loose by Chris Neil crashing his own net. Who's left to clean up the garbage? Jack Eichel, who scores his 16th of the year to put his goal scoring total one under Artemi Panarin for the rookie lead.
Note that this happened a minute into the period, and is the Sabres *final* shot on goal. Yup. The Senators rattle off 23 straight shots against Robin Lehner and the tired, sluggish Sabres but can't find a way to bury the puck. The team's best chances came after Karlsson's fancy rush-leading abilities and Zibanejad's hefty skating power through the neutral zone draws a penalty. The 1-3-1 of Zibanejad/Hoffman, Karlsson, Ryan leads to six shot attempts, including a glorious chance for Mika after Bobby Ryan tipped a Hoffman shot to him, but the Swedish forward roofs it high on a sprawling Lehner. What everyone will be talking about is the final 22 seconds after Mark Stone drew a penalty on Mike Weber, which featured a last ditch effort by Jean-Gabriel Pageau that's off by about .2 milliseconds from tying the game.
HOLY SMOKES the Sabres dodged a bullet pic.twitter.com/y5BVClZcPl— Stephanie (@myregularface) January 27, 2016
Ultimately, it was an exciting affair to enter the all-star break. Generally, I'd take 60% Corsi even if it was against a poor Sabres team on a back-to-back night, but given that this is Lehner's first win of the season and how he fought off all attempts to tie the game, this one stings a bit more than it should.
Sens Hero: Mike Hoffman's defensive effort
The first two frames in the sequence make sense, but by the third one Boro *needs* to have closed down pic.twitter.com/IvdoxAjEa7— Nate (@NKB121) January 27, 2016
This is just one example of how Mike Hoffman covered for some of the Sens sloppy efforts in their defensive zone tonight. Interrupted stretch passes, coming down low to support the forwards -- it was clear that Hoffman tried his best to play a complete game tonight.
Sens Hero: Shane Prince
I wish he got the two assists that he deserved, but Prince continues to make the Senators 4th line an effective unit. It's a strange situation, because I want him to get added minutes but I also like how well he's been helping Chris Neil perform. His strong board work was noticeable tonight, and he makes a concerted effort to never give up on the puck. Wish he was given more minutes but Dave Cameron understandably shortened his bench rather early tonight given that the all-star break was coming up.
Sens Killer: Robin Lehner :(
Painful. Kudos to Robin, who looked shaky the first two periods but made a number of Grade A stops after settling in during the third period onslaught. The Sabres probably should've won one of his prior three starts, especially given Lehner's .934 sv%, but I guess it's fitting that it comes against his former team on a night where Craig Anderson is the shakier goalie of the two.
Player Possession Report via Sean Tierney:
Game Flow via Natural Stat Trick
Thanks for reading!