A Little Competition in Ottawa

Robin LehnerThe Ottawa Senators reserve goaltender Robin Lehner sure picked a good time for his first career shutout: two days after the Senators traded for St. Louis’s highly touted netminder Ben Bishop. A little competition never hurt anyone! The trade took place after Senators starting goalie Craig Anderson sliced his finger badly enough to preclude him from playing; Lehner was also called up from the AHL’s Binghamton that day and made 28 saves in a 5-2 victory over the Islanders.

It was on Tuesday, though, that the fiery 20-year-old — who became the youngest Swedish goalie to play in the NHL last season when he debuted just two months after turning 19 — really made his mark. Lehner stopped all 32 shots that came his way for the 1-0 shutout victory in Boston, where he was named the game’s first star. (Bishop, who was assigned to Binghamton, picked up first-star honors for the AHL affiliate the same night.)

It will be interesting to see what unfolds between Lehner and Bishop. Last season, Lehner helped lead the Binghamton Senators to the AHL’s Calder Cup and was named MVP of the playoffs; this year, Bishop has been the AHL’s top regular-season netminder for the Peoria Rivermen and was even named the MVP of the All-Star Game.

Despite his big recent games in Ottawa, Lehner has been less than impressive in Binghamton this season, sporting a 8-16-1 record as well as a three-game suspension for … well, just watch:

The Senators blog Silver Seven suggests that Lehner — whose father was one of Henrik Lundqvist’s coaches back in Sweden — has a problem approaching everyday games with the same rigor and skill that he demonstrates in big moments. “Championships are won by goaltenders who can raise their game at the right time, and Lehner has shown the capability of doing so,” Peter Raaymakers wrote. “But in order to get to the right time, your goaltender needs to find a way to motivate himself during the doldrums of the regular season.”

Maybe that explains the next-level appearance. After all, what better way to motivate someone like that than to trade for someone like Bishop? And so the Senators, who stand at sixth place in the Eastern Conference and are just three points back of Boston for the top spot in the Northeast Division, suddenly find themselves with the good kind of goalie situation on their hands.

In other news around the league’s nets:

  • Don’t look now, but the Buffalo Sabres are just four points out of playoff contention. I know, I couldn’t believe it myself! The Sabres are 5-0-1 in their last six games, the most recent two of which were back-to-back shutouts by goalie Ryan Miller. “That’s the Ryan Miller that won the Vezina Trophy,” defenseman Mike Weber said on Thursday night, after the Sabres defeated the Sharks 1-0 in San Jose. (Miller made 43 saves Wednesday as Buffalo won 2-0 in Anaheim, all but torpedoing the Ducks’ chances of sneaking into the postseason.) Still, not all is celebratory in the Sabres locker room: Earlier this week, Miller openly expressed his displeasure that the team traded Paul Gaustad. “I’m not going to lie. I’m not real happy about the way it all turned out. But that’s the business of hockey,” he said. “Like I’ve said, we don’t make those decisions. That’s more proof because if I had any more influence Paul would still be here.” If the first-round draft pick that the team got for Gaustad had feelings, they’d be incredibly hurt.
  • With Roberto Luongo making 29 saves for his 58th career shutout Thursday night, the Vancouver Canucks became the first NHL team to 90 points in the standings, outlasting the St. Louis Blues, 2-0. Between Luongo and Miller, it’s been a good few weeks for Goalies Whose Fans Wanted Them to Be Traded in November.
  • The Phoenix Coyotes’ Mike Smith, about whom I have written before in this space, finally lost a game Thursday night, 4-2 to Calgary, ending an 11-game win streak that helped the Coyotes go 11-0-1 in February and earned Smith the NHL’s First Star of the Month honors. “It’s a luxury to have,” defenseman Adrian Aucoin said of his backstop. (Aucoin had less glowing things to say about Smith’s predecessor in Phoenix, Ilya Bryzgalov.)
  • Apropos of very little, I enjoyed these saves by Tampa Bay’s Mathieu Garon.

Filed Under: Henrik Lundqvist, Katie Baker, Ottawa Senators

Katie Baker is a staff writer at Grantland.

Archive @ katiebakes