When it comes to the New York Islanders, they have had stability issues for the last several seasons.
Because of their instability between the pipes, they have struggled to keep the puck out of the net for what seems like the last decade. Sure, it was not entirely their fault, but it the problems were certainly noticeable.
Fast forward to this season and things are much different when it comes to this club keeping the puck out of their net. The team is first in the league in goals allowed as they have given up 111 goals in 42 games, which is good for a 2.64 goals-against average per game.
It is clear that one of the reasons why the Isles are so much better this season in this area of the game is Barry Trotz’s coaching. Trotz has this team playing a much tighter defensive system than in previous years and he is also making sure each of his players play good two-way hockey.
The other reason why this team is playing well is because of their goaltending. While both goaltenders have basically split the season, there is one whose play has really stood out this season.
That would be Robin Lehner. After struggling the last few seasons both on and off the ice, Lehner, 27, is healthy and looking every bit like the netminder that was the 46th overall pick in the 2009 NHL Entry Draft.
Lehner is 12-6-3 with a 2.22 goals-against average, a .926 save percentage and two shutouts. Those kinds of numbers are something that Islanders fans are not used to.
There are many reasons why Lehner is having a successful season. It starts with his confidence.
Lehner is currently on a eight-game winning streak. As a whole, the team has won 10 of their last 12 games so Lehner has obviously been a big part of that.
He’s winning hockey games, making the big saves, challenging shooters, controlling his rebounds, and doing everything a good goaltender does to help his team pick-up two points on a nightly basis. Right now, Lehner is playing like he’s an elite goaltender.
Secondly, it appears that he is healthy both on the ice and off it. He’s dealt with several injuries in his career that negatively impacted his play when he returned the ice and so far this season, he has yet to deal with anything like that.
Off the ice, it looks like for the moment he has his demons under control. Prior to the season, Lehner admitted in a Sporting News article by Brandon Schlager that he struggled with alcohol addiction and bipolar disorder, which are two things that are extremely serious and need to be spoken about more.
It was a real tough piece to read as Lehner shared a lot about himself. He even went as far to admit that he thought about ending his life at one point.
“Since the new year began I had been feeling severely depressed and my drinking increased,” he wrote. “I was heavily drinking a case of beer a day just to settle the demons in my mind and then took pills to sleep. I was self-treating myself because I could not be inside my own head by myself. The thoughts of ending it all … it was real and close.”
In this same piece, Lehner explained what made him a good goalie and what made him struggle in terms of what both his alcohol addiction and bipolar disorder were doing to him.
“I had never had a sober season of hockey my entire career,” he said. “With those manic swings, I could see the pattern. When I was hypomanic and in a good mood, I was a solid goalie. The depressive state, not so much.”
It looks like Lehner is in a much better place and that is why he is playing really well this season. When you put sobriety and control of your mental health together, you get someone who feels good, looks good, and is positive about both him/herself and life in general.
Lastly, Lehner is playing well because in the end, he’s already a good goaltender. Despite playing on many weak Sabres’ teams, he still put up respectable numbers and was easily the team’s best player.
There is still a lot of hockey left to be played, but it is easy to think and even say that Lehner has been the team’s most valuable player in the first half of the season. Not bad for a player the team signed to a 1-year, $1.15 million deal in the offseason.
This is a great story and one that I hope will continue and see Lehner play in the postseason.