Senators goalie Lehner looks to regain lustre

Some of the shine that was on Robin Lehner after he led the Binghamton Senators to the Calder Cup in 2010-2011 rubbed off last year.

Senators goalie Lehner looks to regain lustre

Some of the shine that was on Robin Lehner after he led the Binghamton Senators to the Calder Cup in 2010-2011 rubbed off last year.

Like the entire Binghamton Senator team, he had a poor year, going 13-22-2-1 with a 3.26 goals against average and a .907 save percentage.

That made Ottawa management wonder whether the 21-year-old had the mental and physical toughness to be a consistent professional goalie, or whether his temperament was too volatile.

Getting hot over a short run to win something like the Calder Cup doesn’t equal consistency.

The team’s doubts about Lehner weren’t helped by his meltdown during a 6-2 New Year’s Day loss to the Syracuse Crunch, when he tried to wrestle his way past referee Darcy Burchell to get at Crunch goalie Jeff Deslauriers during a second-period brawl.

While most predicted Lehner would end up with something like a 20-game suspension, he got only three, which prompted his own coach, Kurt Kleinendorst, to say he was “a little surprised but was certainly not going to argue.”

Lehner’s suspension put him in the same league as Ray Emery, who was suspended twice when he played for the Binghamton Senators.

Against the backdrop of these doubts in Lehner — the goalie they had hoped would be their future No. 1 — the Senators went out and acquired Ben Bishop and promptly signed him to a one-year, one-way contract.

It was a pointed message to Lehner, who is on a two-year contract. Shape up. Here’s your competition.

If Lehner had figured he was going to be Craig Anderson’s backup next season, Bishop’s acquisition told him he was almost certainly headed back to Binghamton (unless he’s traded first).

But, as Lehner attends the team’s summer development camp, he’s approaching training camp the only way he can: As a good soldier who believes he has a chance to make the NHL team.

“You’ve got to believe it’s realistic,” he said on Tuesday.

“I’m trying to prepare myself as good as I can now to be able to get a spot. You never know.

“You go for it and see what happens.

“I’m feeling good, and I’m looking forward to it, and I’m excited.

“Obviously I know I’ve got a long way to go, and I have some technical things I need to work on and try to get more stable and be a little bit more calm in the net.”

Lehner had some good moments last season. He was 3-2-0 during two recalls with the Senators.

Most memorably, on Feb. 25, he pitched a 1-0 shutout, his first in the NHL, against the Bruins in Boston. The next night, he beat the New York Islanders 5-2.

But most of the season wasn’t fun at all.

“When I’ve been looking back at it, there were a lot of good learning experiences,” he said.

“I think I’ve developed as a goalie, and I think I’ve developed and matured a lot as a guy, and started to really know what it’s all about.

“Last year, in some ways, it doesn’t go as we wanted, and that was a good experience for us, too. Sometimes that happens.

“Then up here in Ottawa I felt really good when I got a chance.

“You know, the main thing for me is feeling that I’ve gotten to be a better goalie, and I think I can stop more pucks.”

Like everyone, Lehner has heard the trade rumours linking him as part of a package headed to Columbus in a potential deal for Rick Nash.

Though he has no desire to leave Ottawa, he’s not worried about the rumours, just as he’s not worried about carrying the anchor of a two-way contract.

It’s a business, certainly, and he understands the team will look after its financial interests. But he also believes the team is looking after his best interests.

“I have one job, and that’s to stop pucks, and try to stop as many as I can,” he said.

“That’s all it comes down to in the end, anyway.

“They’re doing the best they can for me. They don’t try to go against me. They’re trying to develop me (to be as good as I can).

“I’m an asset to them and they want me to be as good as possible.

“You know, you’ve got to trust them, too. They’ve got a lot of hockey experience. I’m only 21. I don’t know that much. I’m just eager to play, eager to improve myself.

“I’ve been shooting myself in the foot sometimes, taking a couple of steps back,” he admitted. “Now I’m trying to go forward here and it’s going to be fun.”

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