Scanlan: Lehner speaks out, beats the Blues

Robin Lehner believes the Senators can learn a lot from a Western Conference team like the St. Louis Blues.

Robin Lehner of the Ottawa Senators is scored on by Chris Stewart of the St. Louis Blues during second period NHL action at Canadian Tire Centre on Monday, December 16, 2013. (Jean Levac/Ottawa Citizen)

Robin Lehner believes the Senators can learn a lot from a Western Conference team like the St. Louis Blues.

Sometimes in hockey, though, the teacher learns from the student. Monday was a case in point as the Senators handled the Blues 3-2 in an overtime thriller, to register their second victory over a western team this season.

What a finish – the game ending on a high wrist shot from local hero Cody Ceci, playing just his third career NHL game. It was Ceci’s first career NHL goal and Kyle Turris fished the puck out of the net for Cody’s collection.

Where to next for Lehner? It’s more than wins and losses, as Lehner explained during a lengthy game-day interview in which he insisted the Senators starting goaltending job belongs to Craig Anderson, even if this was Lehner’s 17th game of the season, with the potential for plenty more where they came from.

“This year, I’m the backup, I’ve said that a bunch of times,” Lehner says. “I’ve played a bunch of games, but it’s been weird circumstances – to go take over, because it’s not that time yet.”

Maybe it is too early to declare Lehner the starter, but after Anderson was torched for two goals on four shots against the Los Angeles Kings on Saturday afternoon, dropping his save percentage to .898 on the season, this was the right call, summoning ‘The Lehner’ to face the Blues. Based on the events of Monday – a huge win, a couple of spectacular saves on Blues star Alex Steen – Lehner should be busy this week as the Senators visit the New Jersey Devils Wednesday and then return home to games against Florida Thursday and Phoenix Saturday.

“It’s not my time yet,” Lehner says. “There’s been a few times this year where people have said, ‘maybe now you can start running with him.’ But it’s not about that right now. It’s about us as a team – to get better.

“It kind of shows us,” Lehner said, after the victory, “if we keep it simple, we can come up with wins. We got a taste of that against L.A., they didn’t do anything fancy.

Against the Blues the Senators were very good, at times, playing the kind of simple, physical game their coaching staff has been preaching.

“We play these western teams and we struggle against them. We’ve got to look at ourselves and see what’s missing. They’re very physical, they’re hard working, we’ve got to try and match it somehow.

“You can’t play for five minutes, or 10 minutes or one period at a time, have a lapse in the second period.”

That last bit was prophetic, for it was two second period goals by Chris Stewart that stung Ottawa Monday, including one with 13 seconds left in the period to give the Blues a 2-1 lead. The Senators fought back to tie it 2-2 on a third period-Bobby Ryan goal, off a gorgeous pass by Kyle Turris, setting up the dramatic finish.

Lehner wonders what kind of havoc the Senators might wreak in the east, if they applied the hard-hitting western approach on a regular basis.

“Our game might work against our conference, when we play our skill game,” Lehner said. “But playing Anaheim, L.A., San Jose and Minnesota, they play an awfully simple game and they do it for 60 minutes.

“They just take the easy play and they grind and they grind and they grind. And they make you make mistakes. And then they have some fun. And they grind. It’s pretty amazing just watching it.”

Sens fans will say it was pretty amazing watching their team come back to grind out out a win over the Blues, led by Lehner, the supposed backup.

CECI HIGHWAY

Head coach Paul MacLean quipped that the region might have to “rename the highway to Orleans,” in Ceci’s honour. He is from Orleans, of course. MacLean famously suggested renaming Gatineau bridges in honour of J.G. Pageau for his playoff hat trick last spring.

CALIFORNIA GRIT

Blues head coach Ken Hitchcock says it isn’t hard for his team to stay humble after some tough games against California teams. Despite their strong start, treading among the high flyers in the ultra-competitive west, the Blues have lost all four matchups against California teams, including two losses to San Jose (6-2, 6-3) and single defeats at the hands of Los Angeles and Anaheim. Hitchcock, who will be an assistant coach to Mike Babcock for Team Canada in Sochi, gives this scouting report of the Cali-clubs.

San Jose: “Speed, tenacity, great sticks.”

L.A. : “Physicality and relentless pursuit on the puck.”

Anaheim: “Transitional speed.

“They do it in three different ways,” Hitchcock says. “They’ve all got great size, but all three play different.”

And how have the Blues won 22 games in 32 starts?

“Our forwards work for our defencemen,” Hitchcock says. “That’s the key for us. It’s the forwards that do the work . . not just forechecking — when we’re on top of our game our track and reload is as good as anybody in the National Hockey League. And we create more turnovers off the backcheck than anybody in the league when we’re on top of our game.

“If you look at our odd-man rushes it’s because we check well. You look at most of our scoring chances – three of the four goals in Columbus were because we checked the puck back.”

The Senators can relate. They stole a page from that book.

 

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