BUFFALO – Eleven months ago when Sabres goalie Robin Lehner suffered a season-ending concussion with Ottawa, Andrew Hammond, his replacement, played so well the Senators deemed the Swede expendable.
Lehner’s first major injury was difficult to come back from, but the 24-year-old, who was acquired for a first-round pick on June 26, returned to be the Sabres’ opening-night starter Oct. 8.
But Lehner suffered a high right ankle sprain just 28 minutes into his debut. Finally, after more than three months on the sideline, Lehner is ready to play.
The Sabres have recalled Lehner from his three-game AHL conditioning stint with the Rochester Americans, where he went 1-2 with a 3.36 goals-against average and a .888 save percentage.
“I think excitement is the best word right now,” Lehner said this afternoon following practice inside the First Niagara Center.
Lehner will play at home either Friday against Boston or Saturday versus Washington, Sabres coach Dan Bylsma said.
“I’m ready,” Lehner said. “I feel like I’m ready. Is it going to be perfect? I don’t know. But I’m going to do my best.”
The last year, of course, has “been very difficult,” Lehner said. Still, he’s grateful he hasn’t lost his job. The Sabres sent down rookie Linus Ullmark, who won the last two games, to make room for him.
“I don’t think many guys have gone through what I went through last year,” Lehner said. “I went down with a concussion (and) Andrew Hammond came in and played out of this world. You lost your job, that’s how it works. Got a new chance here and get injured again.
“Those are the first two injuries and they come back-to-back. It was a little bit crushing in the beginning this year.”
He added: “I’m not supposed to sit at home and come in and work out. That’s not what I get paid for. I like to play hockey.”
Where is Lehner right now in his recovery?
“I just feel like every practice, every day it feels better and better,” he said.
Bylsma has a plan for Lehner he wouldn’t share. Backup Chad Johnson, who subbed superbly for Lehner, should keep receiving regular action.
“This is not going to be a situation where Robin plays the next 39 in a row,” Bylsma said.
While sending down Ullmark was the Sabres’ simplest option, it wasn’t easy.
Ullmark stopped 70 total shots in the last two games, including 42 in Sunday’s 4-2 win in Winnipeg. The 22-year-old Swede went 7-10-2 with a 2.58 goals-against average and a .915 save percentage in 19 games during his first NHL stint.
“I think it’s pretty promising he’s shown what kind of goaltender he can be and making the big saves and being a big-time goaltender for the Sabres in the future,” Bylsma said.
Check back later for more on the Sabres’ goaltending situation.