Robin Lehner latest Binghamton call-up in ‘crazy’ month

Ottawa Senators winger Erik Condra was searching Friday for the ideal way to sum up the latest developments for the injury-plagued team.

Ottawa Senators winger Erik Condra was searching Friday for the ideal way to sum up the latest developments for the injury-plagued team.

Eventually he settled for “another day, another B-Sens call-up.”

Indeed. After star goaltender Craig Anderson went down with a sprained right ankle Thursday, Robin Lehner became the latest arrival on the shuttle from Binghamton of the American Hockey League.

Somehow, the Senators have found a way to string together a three-game winning streak and they were part of a four-team tie for fourth spot in the Eastern Conference before Friday’s games.

The Senators can pull ahead of the Toronto Maple Leafs when the clubs meet Saturday at Scotiabank Place, but on Friday anyway, the Battle of Ontario took a back seat to the internal Battle To Stay Healthy.

“At this point, (the injury list) doesn’t surprise me,” Condra continued, glancing around the dressing room. “It just seems like when it rains, it pours. One guy goes down, it’s like a whole slew goes down. It’s really one thing after another. Big guy, big guy, big guy, big guy. But we do have two big guys in net now.”

Until Anderson recovers from his injury — “it’s day to day, not a two or three week type of thing,” according to Senators coach Paul MacLean – the net belongs to the 6-7, 214-pound Bishop and the 6-4, 220-pound Lehner.

The story early Saturday will be which one gets the start against the Maple Leafs.

The circumstances present a touch of deja-vu for Bishop, who inherited the top job a year ago when Anderson cut his hand in a kitchen accident.

“Lucky enough, I had a little bit of experience with this last year in the same kind of situation when (Anderson) went down and I started seven games in a row,” said Bishop, who came on in relief of Anderson Thursday to register the win in the Senators’ 3-2 shootout victory over the New York Rangers. “I’m looking forward to the opportunity. Nobody wants to see (injuries), but it’s the reality and we’ve got to move forward and not think about it. There are enough guys here that want to step up and fill roles, so we’ll just go with that.”

Lehner, meanwhile, was in bed in Binghamton late Thursday when his phone began buzzing with messages to get his way to Ottawa. ASAP. He jumped in his car and arrived at about 4 a.m.

“If I get a shot, I will do my best,” said Lehner, who has patiently played the role of franchise goaltender in waiting this season. “If I don’t, I will try my best in practice.”

Except for his brief stint in Ottawa during training camp and when he served as a back-up for Anderson for the opening two games of the NHL season, he has spent the season dominating AHL shooters. His numbers – 18-10-2, with a goals against average of 2.12 and a save percentage of .938 – are almost as impressive as Anderson’s gaudy NHL numbers.

For the past few weeks, Lehner has watched teammate after teammate make the jump from Binghamton to Ottawa as injury replacements. The list includes Mika Zibanejad, Stephane Da Costa, Eric Gryba, Dave Dziurzynski and Derek Grant. Da Costa went from Ottawa to Binghamton Friday, clearing up roster room for Lehner.

“It has been a crazy year, a crazy month, for the whole organization,” said Lehner, in what might go down as the understatement of the year. “We don’t have the team we had at the beginning of the year (in Binghamton). We’re like 15 guys short of that.”

While Lehner waits for his chance to make another impression in the big leagues, he’s hardly shocked by the impact the other Binghamton call-ups have been able to do in the NHL.

“Having been around them for a few years, I know what they can do and they’ve been doing great up here, I’m happy for them,” he said. “They’re getting put in good spots and they’ve earned it. And there a lot of great players up here that can show them the way. It’s the same way I felt when I was up here at 19 and they showed me the way.”

MacLean was throwing compliments at everyone in the organization Friday – from the Binghamton coaching staff led by Luke Richardson to the Senators’ scouting staff headed by director of player personnel director Pierre Dorion – because of the team’s ability to survive.

“Work ethic and structure has always been the cornerstone since I’ve been here,” he said. “A lot of these players know how to play and know how we want them to play and they just do it.”

MacLean says the young players have brought adrenalin with them “Part of what makes it go is youthful enthusiasm and energy.”

NOTES: Anderson talked with MacLean Friday and “he was in good spirits,” according to the coach…Daniel Alfredsson and Sergei Gonchar didn’t practice, but are expected to be in the lineup Saturday…Peter Regin is close to returning from his chest injury, but won’t play Saturday…Da Costa was the odd man out because a roster spot had to be cleared for Lehner’s return. “I thought he gave a good account of himself, he played fine,” said MacLean.

 

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