Sens can learn from Lehner's fighting spirit

DON BRENNAN, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 8:26 PM ET

VANCOUVER — The signs of their utter frustration were like giant post-its in and all around the visitors’ dressing room at Nassau Memorial Veterans Coliseum late Saturday night.

The coach whose NHL career is ticking away as quickly as the timer on a bomb just before it goes off was moaning and angry over the failure of the starting goalie to make the necessary early saves.

He doesn’t learn, that one. It was his decision to start Brian Elliott that led to the Senators’ ninth consecutive loss, listening to him tell it. Yet it was his call. He could have gone with the guy who has the team’s only win in 42 days, but no, this was the beat-up Islanders, their personal, dented kicking can.

This was the perfect opportunity for Elliott to end his franchise-record losing streak before it reached 13 games. It was the right choice — if it worked out. Merely one more firing offence if it didn’t.

There were the two veteran players stretching together on the floor, quietly yet distinctly complaining about something that’s not working, and why. Here and there, more disenchantment throughout the room.

And then there was the teenager who, with each outing, is proving why he is considered the goalie of this team’s future. Robin Lehner was so angry his face was trembling as he spoke to reporters. Still so mad after the scrum that he couldn’t move right away from his stall. He had to sit and seethe a while longer.

A transcontinental flight, sleep, breakfast and workout later, Lehner was still pissed.

The big Swede clearly doesn’t like losing, and he despises defeat that is his fault. This one was being pinned on him for taking what was called an elbowing penalty on Islanders goalie Kevin Poulin as the two skated to their dressing rooms at the end of the second period.

The call gave the Islanders a two-man advantage to start the third, and they capitalized, scoring what would be the winning goal.

“I’ve thought about it a little and I looked at it on the Internet, too,” Lehner said Sunday. “I’m going right alongside the boards, I’m going my way, and he angles me and he starts chirping me. Basically what happens is I put my forearm to his shoulder and he falls and glides like three yards ... either you get into it or you don’t. You don’t go halfway and mess around. He got the penalty on me and I’m really upset I did that for the team, but that’s not hockey, going the first step and then just back off and dive.”

Poulin had a problem with Lehner getting involved, and even throwing a couple of punches, earlier in the second period during a scrum in front of his crease. Lehner said he became involved because two Islanders had jumped Milan Michalek.

“And the one guy that came in skated from the blue line ... I don’t know the rule book, but is that a penalty?” Lehner asked Saturday night. “It should be a penalty, I think. And then I went in there, and after that it was kind of on me, but I don’t care about that ... it’s part of the game and I enjoy it.”

Sunday, Lehner was still wondering why Poulin was all talk, no rock.

“I saw when there was a scrum with Michalek, (Poulin) was up there and screaming a little bit at me too, so when I saw him coming and angling me, I thought he was going to drop them,” he said.

“It was dumb of me, I took the bait, and they got the win ... Unfortunately we lost on my mistake.”

Lehner won’t dwell on it, however.

“It’s out of my mind,” he said. “I was just disappointed it was a penalty, and we lost because of that. If it happens again, if a guy comes right at me, I won’t go away from that. Just going forward (now), see what happens.”

Naturally, Bryan Murray likes what he sees from Lehner. The Senators GM likes Lehner’s game, likes his fight.

“What we said to Robin when he came here is we don’t want you to be the saviour, you’re 19 years old, we want you to get experience,” said Murray. “As long as you learn from that. When things are going bad, I don’t object to guys stepping up and doing things. Sometimes it’s a little overboard, and that was probably a little overboard.”

On a team that’s lost nine in a row, more guys should feel like clocking someone. Murray doesn’t deny that.

“Yeah, I’d like to see us play harder at times, at least finish checks a little stronger,” he said. “There’s a frustration level that everybody has, not just him. As I’ve said to the young players, just learn from the balance of the year.”

Following Lehner’s lead wouldn’t be a bad thing, either. Hate to lose, and if somebody’s going to beat you, make sure you go down with some fight.

don.brennan@sunmedia.ca


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