Red-Hot Isles Continue to Lean on Lehner
Netminder resumes stinginess in 2-1 overtime victory vs. St. Louis
Team president and general manager Lou Lamoriello’s belief in Robin Lehner is paying some huge dividends for the New York Islanders.
The previously troubled goaltender, whose well-chronicled bouts with bipolar disorder and substance abuse nearly derailed his career, is burgeoning here in Downtown Brooklyn.
Lehner continued his brilliant bounce-back campaign Tuesday night, stopping 30 shots — including 18 during a furious second-period push by St. Louis — to lift the Islanders to a 2-1 overtime victory over the Blues in front of 10,042 fans at Barclays Center.
“[Lehner] was the reason we won tonight,” noted Isles forward Jordan Eberle, whose first-period goal, and the 200th of his career, provided the lone score for New York before veteran Valtteri Filppula’s nifty game-winner 1:37 into OT.
“He was seeing the puck well. He made a lot of big saves, kept us in it.”
The 27-year-old Swede, who began his stint here on a one-year, $1.5 million deal from Lamoriello this past summer, leads the entire league with an eye-popping 2.16 goals-against average.
Since becoming the first goaltender in team history to begin his Islander career with a shutout vs. San Jose on Oct. 8, Lehner has been the steadiest of presences following his shaky stints in Ottawa and Buffalo.
Lehner has won nine of his past 10 starts and boasts a 13-7-3 mark overall.
Even when he wasn’t getting positive results earlier in the campaign, both Lamoriello and head coach Barry Trotz could see that he was coming into his own, both on the ice and off it.
“I think he’s a unique case and situation,” Lamoriello said upon inking the veteran goaltender back in July.
“He has something you can’t teach, size and talent. … Hopefully our coaching staff can get him back to the form he was at. He’s determined to get himself back in the forefront.”
And now it’s not out of the question that Lehner is playing himself into a long-term lucrative deal with the Brooklyn-based franchise, which is likely to begin playing full-time at the Nassau Coliseum in Uniondale, N.Y., as early as next year.
“We’re playing as a team; we’re playing for each other,” said Lehner, who has benefited greatly from Trotz’s defense-first mentality.
“Everyone throws themselves in, everyone tries to get in front of the puck, everyone does everything they can. That’s what we got to keep on doing.”
With Tuesday’s win, the Isles climbed back into the third spot in the Metropolitan Division standings, just three points shy of first-place Columbus.
Lehner has been at the forefront of their recent push into playoff contention, suffering just one loss (a tough 2-1 defeat to the archrival Rangers here on Saturday) since Dec. 12.
On Tuesday, he made nearly half of his second-period saves during a pair of power-play opportunities by the Blues, who finally broke through against him on David Perron’s tying tally at 6:07 of the third period.
Lehner’s play between the pipes allowed the Isles to stay afloat until reigning Calder Trophy winner Mathew Barzal threaded a perfect blueline-to-blueline pass to Filppula, who wristed a bullet past Blues goalie Jordan Binnington during the extra session.
New York improved to 8-2 in its last 10 games with Lehner starting between the pipes in all but one of those victories.
“You win in different ways,” Trotz noted. “Tonight, we had to win with goaltending and a good three-on-three performance. In OT, it was a clinic in terms of three-on-three and long-change management. We did a great job and a great pass from Barzy to Fil.”
Right now, it’s safe to say that the Isles are winning consistently because their defense has gone from league-worst to tied for best on the circuit in goals allowed per game.
Lehner has been at the forefront of that turnaround, rising from the ashes of what many presumed was a dead career.
Lamoriello knew something about Lehner that the rest of the league didn’t, a trait that has made him perhaps the most brilliant behind-the-scenes mind in the modern history of the game.
And one that will likely lead this team back into perennial playoff contention as well as relevance on the New York sporting scene.
Isle Have Another: Eberle downplayed his 200-goal milestone following the Isles’ win on Tuesday, but Trotz made sure to give his veteran winger praise for picking up a loose puck near the St. Louis net and deftly backhanding into the top of the mesh. “Congrats to Jordan Eberle on his 200th tonight,” Trotz said. “Best league in the world. That’s hard to do.” Since missing four games due to an upper-body injury, Eberle has put together one of his best stretches of the campaign, collecting three goals and an assist over his past six contests. … The Isles will host the New Jersey Devils at the renovated Nassau Coliseum on Thursday night as they have only three home dates remaining this season at the Barclays Center.
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