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Swedes Lehner, Gustavsson leave very different impressions

Swedes Lehner, Gustavsson leave very different impressions
Ottawa Senators Goalie Robin Lehner

Senators' third-stringer Robin Lehner is now saying all the right things about starting the season in the AHL, even after making another good impression in the NHL Sunday. (InGoal file photo)

When young Swede Robin Lehner was sent down back to the minor leagues by the Ottawa Senators this season he made it clear he believed he was ready to stay in the NHL, especially after backstopping a championship at the AHL level as a rookie last season.

Called back up over the weekend after an injury to Ottawa backup Alex Auld, and given a start in the second half of back to back games on Sunday so that Craig Anderson and his five-game win streak could rest, Lehner let his play do the talking.

The 20-year-old made 23 saves in a 3-2 win over rival Toronto, including this game-saving highlight reel stop:

More impressive, however, was Lehner’s attitude in interviews before and after the win. He credited a recent visit from Senators’ goalie coach Rick Wamsley for turning around a slow start to his AHL season, and talked about the value of continuing his development as a minor league starter rather than warming the bench with the big club.

It was in stark contrast to his earlier views on the matter, a point duty noted in the Ottawa Sun:

“Small details haven’t been working for me, but he came down last week and we fixed those up,” Lehner told The Sun. “I see the purpose of me being down there. I’m really going in focused. I’m trying to develop. I know there’s stuff to my game I need to be better at. I’m working on it. I feel I’m getting better.”

As The Sun noted, Lehner looked again Sunday like he’s ready for the NHL.

Which is a lot better than Lehner saying it himself.

That does not, however, mean that Lehner can’t still be entertaining. Asked about the disappearance of his hair since the last time he was with the Senators, Lehner revealed to The Sun it was about comfort when he’s playing.

“Down the drain,” said Lehner, adding Binghamton roommate and fellow Swede Andre Petersson cut it off. “I’m always without hair usually. Last year was my first with hair. Bothers me in my mask. Andre (cut) it. I trust him. He’s a good guy.”

Gustavsson stuck at other end of spectrum

Fellow Swede Jonas “the Monster” Gustavsson didn’t fare nearly as well at the other end on Sunday.

Just when it appeared the third-year stopper was finding a rhythm and re-establishing himself while filling in for the injured James Reimer (whiplash), Gustavsson whiffed on this long shot for what became the game-winning goal:

The goal set off a new wave of over-the-top, unfair criticism in Toronto, including headlines comparing him to oft-vilified ex-Leafs goalie Vesa Toskala. But the more interesting subtext comes from those who took a closer look at what happened on the goal, and contrasted it to some of the highlight reel saves Gustavsson was making up to that point:

It was quickly pointed out by some that Gustavsson, who was a highly sought after free agent because of technique-be-damned saves like the one above, seems to be struggling with the adjustment to a more structured puck-blocking style under the eye of Leafs goaltending guru Francois Allaire. Ironically, the goal Sunday that has so many up in arms is exactly the kind that Allaire’s close-the-holes system is designed to prevent, if only because pucks are far less likely to go through a body placed squarely behind them rather than outstretched limbs that are reaching for shots.

Certainly there’s no question the adjustment has been tougher for the athletic Gustavsson, and he may yet benefit – and thrive elsewhere in the NHL – from being freed from the restraints in place in Toronto. But listening to the still-young Swede explain the goal to the Toronto Sun, it doesn’t appear that was the issue this time:

“For some reason I lost sight of the puck when it went over (the sightline) of the boards,” he said. “I should have had it. It wasn’t that I was surprised. I just should have had it. It shouldn’t happen. But bad things happen sometimes. When I let in a goal like that, I get pissed at myself. I just try to focus on the next shot.”

If that’s the case, a puck he didn’t see had a better chance of hitting his body in blocking mode than an outstretched glove. But that doesn’t mean The Monster wouldn’t benefit from a chance to rely more on his athleticism more often.

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1 Comment

  1. Matt In Ottawa

    Lehner is a beast. He’s definately NHL-ready. A few small things to work on IMO, but if he’s not up this year, he will be up next year for sure.

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