This was exactly the return Robin Lehner wanted and needed.
The Ottawa Senators goalie made 33 saves in a 3-2 victory over the Nashville Predators Thursday night.
Lehner had lost his last two starts and hadn’t played since November 9, but he showed no sign of nervousness.
“I felt good,” said Lehner. “It’s always a little bit uphill when you let in a goal early, but I thought the whole team, especially in the second, bounced back and kept it a little bit more simple and it felt solid overall.”
Bobby Ryan, Alex Chiasson and Jared Cowen scored for the Senators (9-5-4).
The Predators (12-5-2) got goals from Shea Weber and Olli Jokinen, while Carter Hutton— playing just his third game of the season— faced 19 shots.
Trailing 3-1, Jokinen made it a one-goal game in the opening minutes of the third as he knocked in a Derek Roy rebound. It was Jokinen's first point with the Predators.
Jokinen would have preferred to wait a little longer for his first goal in exchange for two points.
“There’s a reason why we are in the top in the standings because of the way we’ve been playing,” said Jokinen. “We’ve been able to execute that night in and night out for a full 60 minutes, but (Thursday) we did that for 40 minutes, 30 minutes, something like that and it’s not enough.
“Our push wasn’t enough in the third.”
The Senators were clearly playing to protect the one-goal lead as they were outshot 16-3 in the third. The Predators had a couple of good chances, but Lehner was solid in his first game since Nov. 9.
“I thought (Robin) was very good,” said Senators coach Paul MacLean. “He made at least three (saves) that could have been goals and the reason we win the game is because he played goal the way he did.”
While disappointed to lose Predators coach Peter Laviolette had no issue with his team’s effort.
“I was happy that they went out there and played as hard as they did in the third and fought for a win,” said Laviolette. “It didn’t happen but that’s a sign of a team that believes it can do things so for me it was good to go out and show the compete level in the third to fight for something when you’re behind.”
While the second period has often been where trouble starts for the Senators, on this night it was the opposite as Ottawa scored three straight goals to take a 3-1 lead through 40 minutes in front of 16,796 at the Canadian Tire Centre.
“It was big, it set us up for the third period,” said MacLean. “Having good second periods sets you up for the third and gives you an opportunity to win and that’s the priority that you have to put on second periods.”
Ryan said there was no need for any kind of message during intermission as everyone was well aware of how poorly the team had played.
“I think someone said that was our worst period we’ve played all year and we’re only down one,” said Ryan. “When you get one on the power play I think everybody takes a sigh of relief because you know that there’s a crutch there and after that everything started to go right for a little while.”
Trailing 1-0, the Senators tied the game on Ryan's power-play goal at the six-minute mark of the second. Erik Karlsson found Ryan all alone and he quickly beat Hutton with a wrist shot.
Ottawa took its first lead on Chiasson's fifth of the season as he tipped in Cody Ceci's point shot. Cowen, 2:06 later, scored his first of the season as he took a pass from Milan Michalek and beat Hutton glove side.
The Senators can only hope Cowen’s goal is a sign of things to come from its defensive corps as to this point Erik Karlsson, with four, and Patrick Wiercioch, with one, are the only two defencemen to score.
However at this point Cowen will settle for just playing a solid overall game considering he was a healthy scratch for five straight games earlier this season.
“It’s always nice to score goals; it’s the funnest part of the game,” said Cowen. “I don’t measure my game on that, but it always helps to make your game a whole and have a little bit of every aspect of the game so I’ll score as much as I can.”
A disappointing first period left the Senators trailing 1-0 as Weber scored on the power play early. Ottawa was outshot 9-4 and didn't even register its first shot on goal until after the halfway point of the period.
If not for Lehner’s play the game could have taken a different turn.
“(The first) was ugly,” said Ryan. “Maybe that’s the curse of four days off.”
The Senators are back in action Saturday as they host the St. Louis Blues, while the Predators return home to host the Florida Panthers.
The Predators LW Gabriel Bourque and D Victor Bartley were a healthy scratch for Nashville. C Mike Fisher, a former member of the Senators, remains sidelined as he recovers from a lacerated Achilles.