Isles may lean on Lehner going forward
Previously troubled goaltender posts shutout in Brooklyn debut
The last time Robin Lehner was between the pipes in an NHL game, he was forced to leave the ice following a panic attack caused by his well-chronicled bout with bipolar disorder.
After undergoing treatment for ADD and PTSD this past offseason, as well as getting sober following self-admitted addictions to alcohol and drugs, the 27-year-old Swede was ready for a fresh start with the New York Islanders.
Thus far, Lehner has made the most of the opportunity and is eager to put his checkered past behind him here in Downtown Brooklyn.
“I try to just move forward here, but it’s obviously a little bit special,” Lehner admitted, after becoming the first goaltender in Islanders history to post a shutout in his debut with the team, swatting away 35 shots in New York’s 4-0 blanking of San Jose during a Columbus Day matinee in front of 8,790 fans at Barclays Center.
Lehner, who was signed to a one-year, $1.5 million deal by team president and general manager Lou Lamoriello this past offseason, has come a long way since that infamous March 29 game he started for the Buffalo Sabres against Detroit.
After making 17 saves on 20 shots that evening, Lehner deemed himself unfit to rejoin his teammates for the beginning of the third period.
He spent this past summer trying to prove that he could regain control over his own life, then began focusing on getting back in playing shape.
Judging from his performance during the preseason and his masterful effort Monday afternoon, the 6-foot-4 netminder is finally in a good place, both on and off the ice.
“I felt real good to be back in the game again doing what I love, perfectly healthy, feeling better than I ever did,” he noted. “It’s the start of a new chapter with a new team and a new city and I’m looking forward to it.”
As are the Isles (2-1), who earned a split on this two-game homestand before embarking on their upcoming five-game western swing, which kicks off Saturday night in Nashville.
Though primary goaltender Thomas Greiss, who finished last season with a league-worst 3.82 goals-against average, made 45 saves in last Thursday’s season-opening win in Carolina, Lamoriello and head coach Barry Trotz are doubtlessly hoping Lehner provides some stability from the back-up role.
Unless, of course, he continues to play as well as he did on Monday, which could thrust him past Greiss, who surrendered four goals on only 23 shots in Saturday night’s home-opening loss to Nashville.
“Robin was really solid,” Trotz raved following Lehner’s stellar performance.
“I was really happy for him, he’s made such a big commitment in so many areas of his life and he’s changing his game with [goaltending coach] Piero [Greco] and I was happy for him and I think [the] guys were, too.”
Newly appointed team captain Anders Lee got the Isles on the board with his second power-play goal of the young season at 14:34 of the second period, snapping a scoreless deadlock between dueling goalies Lehner and San Jose’s Martin Jones.
The Sharks peppered Lehner from the start, sending 11 shots his way in the opening 20 minutes, including a pair of golden chances from the slot by Thomas Hertl.
But Lehner “stood tall,” according to Trotz, and was even more stingy in the final period, stopping 16 shots to preserve his first NHL shutout since Jan. 25 at Vancouver.
“He was calm, tight and he was moving,” the Stanley Cup-winning coach noted. “He wasn’t reaching for stuff. He looked big. I know their shooters were seeing a wall.”
Scott Mayfield, Matt Martin and Casey Cizikas also scored for New York, which played well enough in front of Lehner to thwart four San Jose power plays, improving the Isles’ penalty kill to a perfect 8-for-8 thus far this season.
Reigning Calder Trophy winner Mathew Barzal picked up his third assist in as many games for the Isles, who have responded well to Trotz’s tougher, more defensive style during the season’s first week.
“Talk about a team win,” gushed Trotz, fresh off leading the Washington Capitals to their first-ever NHL title last season before inking a four-year deal here.
“I think you had everyone in the right place,” he added. “We had some skill guys score on the power play. You had your penalty killers and guys defending with commitment at the end and Robin was making good saves. It was a team win. We do everything as a team and I thought everyone contributed through the lineup.”
Isle Have Another: After leading the NHL in goals and shots allowed last season, the Islanders are putting extra emphasis on their defensive performance with Trotz at the helm. Not only have the Isles not surrendered a power-play goal through their first three contests, but they also managed to score short-handed Monday as Cizikas potted an empty netter with 56 seconds to play. New York has also scored with the man advantage in each of its first three games. “We’ve been working on the [penalty] kill,” said defenseman Ryan Pulock, who blocked three shots in front of Lehner on Monday. “Guys are laying their bodies on the line, getting in lanes and doing the little things. That’s what you need to do to be successful and at the same time our goalie has made those saves when we’ve needed them.” … Monday’s announced attendance was the lowest for an Islander game at Barclays Center since the team moved in to start the 2015-16 campaign.