If there’s one thing we've learned from watching this year it's that money is not a key motivating factor for Ottawa Senators' goaltender Robin Lehner.
The six-foot-five Swede goaltender entered this season with a chance to prove he’s the goalie of the future in Ottawa. With restricted free agency on the horizon, a potential pay raise was on the table. Craig Anderson’s contract also lasts just one more year, signalling a potential changing of the guard.
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The script has been abandoned. For the 22-year-old Lehner, nothing’s worked this year. He has given up almost one goal more per game, his save percentage has dropped from .936 to .912 and he’s only won three of his last 13 starts.
Last year, the Senators ranked second in the league defensively, just behind the Stanley Cup champion Chicago Blackhawks, thanks to their goaltending.
That was partly due to the play of Ben Bishop, now a candidate in Tampa Bay for the Vezina Trophy, awarded to the NHL’s top goalie. But it was mostly Lehner and Anderson who stood on their heads.
Goaltending struggles leave future in doubt
This year, neither Anderson nor Lehner have strung together solid efforts, much like the players in front of them. Their goals against averages are fifth and sixth worst in the NHL, respectively.
Robin Lehner's stats
Oddly, two of Lehner's wins were over the western conference powerhouse St. Louis Blues. Lehner’s last win over an Eastern Conference team was on Nov. 23 in Detroit.
You have to put much blame on the Senators’ struggling defensive corps. The goalies bailed them out last year, but the masked men haven’t masked their teammates’ struggles this year.
The final 17 games of this season could allow for a statement in net, though, starting this weekend.
Entering Friday, Ottawa is five points out of a playoff spot and only has a 12 per cent chance of playing in late April, according to sportsclubstats.com.
Those odds could change in a big way if Ottawa earns at least three of a possible four points after games against Montreal on Saturday and Colorado on Sunday.
Lehner might be in the spotlight, too, as Craig Anderson will miss Saturday and possibly Sunday due to injury, according to head coach Paul MacLean.
Tough final stretch tests inconsistency
The Senators' final stretch features six opponents that currently occupy playoff spots and two others that are fighting with Ottawa in the Eastern Conference playoff race.
The schedule also includes two games each against Tampa Bay and the New York Rangers, who they could still catch. So those games will be even more important.
But something has to change during the current four-day break. Only twice this season has the team strung together a winning streak longer than two games.
They need to stretch together solid games and a big part of that is solid goaltending. Lehner and Anderson will be under a microscope.
Solid play could earn Lehner a big raise, or struggles could create tough negotiations with the Senators this off-season.