Lehner soaking in playoff experience, learning along the way

Say, whatever happened to the old Robin Lehner, the once bold and brash teenager who couldn’t wait to sprint ahead of the pack, who always felt life was moving far too slow for him?

Lehner soaking in playoff experience, learning along the way
Goalie Robin Lehner. Ottawa Senators practice at ScotiaBank Place. (Pat McGrath/Ottawa Citizen)

PITTSBURGH — Say, whatever happened to the old Robin Lehner, the once bold and brash teenager who couldn’t wait to sprint ahead of the pack, who always felt life was moving far too slow for him?

The new Lehner is a different animal altogether. He has discovered a measure of patience and is a keen observer of the world around him.

Lehner, now 21, remains very much the Ottawa Senators’ goaltender of the future, yet he insists he has so much more to learn before he can pretend to understand what genuine playoff pressure is all about.

“I got a few minutes in, and those things help, but I haven’t really experienced it,” Lehner said Friday.

Lehner took over from starter Craig Anderson early in the second period of the Senators’ 4-3 loss in Game 2 (he actually registered the loss because the NHL has a goofy way of determining game-winning goals) and was given mop-up duty in third period of the 7-3 defeat in Game 4. He yielded one goal in each appearance, stopping 23 of 25 shots.

Still, he suggests that he has barely dipped his toe into the heat of the action.

“It’s a different thing being a backup and being a starting goalie,” he said. “It’s different pressures, different mental games, different everything. For a backup goalie going into a game, it’s a nothing-to-lose scenario, you just go in with nothing to lose. When you’re a starter, it’s your job to lose. There’s a whole other aspect to it.”

To illustrate his argument, Lehner pointed west to Vancouver, where the Cory Schneider-Roberto Luongo saga played out during the regular season and playoffs. After years of waiting to inherit the No. 1 job, the promising Schneider was given the net while the Canucks tried desperately and unsuccessfully to trade away Luongo and his outlandish contract.

When the playoffs arrived, Schneider discovered — the hard way — all about the pressure cooker environment. He ended up with an 0-2 record, 4.62 goals against average and .880 save percentage as the Canucks were swept in four games by the San Jose Sharks in the opening round of the playoffs.

“It’s unbelievable to me, because Luongo is one of the best goalies in the world and one of the most consistent goalies in the world and (the critics) trash him for losing the Stanley Cup final and saying he’s not good in the playoffs and stuff,” said Lehner. “Everyone started talking about Schneider and he’s no better (than Luongo) in the playoffs.”

Don’t misunderstand Lehner. He welcomes the game time he has received, as well as the fact he has been able to soak in everything else inside and outside the dressing room while being exposed, first-hand, to the NHL post-season for the first time.

“It was a good experience to get to face a little bit of playoff hockey,” he said. “The main (difference) is the atmosphere and that the games mean so much more and the pressure is always on. Maybe the game is a little faster and grittier and there’s more fighting in front of the net.

“I got around 50 minutes of playing time (49 minutes to be exact) and that’s 50 minutes more than I had before, but experience for me is not going to come until I (start), that’s the real experience. But everything this year, every minute, every day I get in this league, is a good day for me. I learn new things every day that I take with me.”

ABOUT THAT OTHER CROSBY

Once upon a time, a Quebec junior league goaltender named Troy Crosby played head-to-head against Patrick Roy. The two netminders were selected by the Montreal Canadiens in the 1984 entry draft — Roy went in the third round, 51st overall, and Crosby was taken in the 12th round, 240th overall — before their playing careers went in vastly different directions.

The 46-year-old Crosby is now best known as the father of Penguins star Sidney Crosby, while the Hall of Famer Roy is now back in the NHL as the new head coach of the Colorado Avalanche.

“It’s pretty cool,” the younger Crosby said Friday. “He was a great player, one of the best of all-time, and seeing him back coaching in the NHL, it’s a different way of seeing him. It’s definitely exciting.”

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