Robin Lehner’s turnaround powers surging Islanders

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EAST MEADOW, N.Y. — Just as news was breaking that he was the NHL’s “First Star of the Week,” New York Islanders goalie Robin Lehner was deflecting the individual praise and identifying the accomplishment as a team effort.

“It’s nice when you get recognized sometimes but when the team plays good there’s going to be personal success for people, too,” Lehner said after Monday’s practice. “We’re playing a helluva team game and it’s rewarding everyone.”

His teammates have certainly helped during the team’s five-game winning streak that has helped put them atop the Metropolitan Division. The Islanders have held their last three opponents — the Anaheim Ducks, Washington Capitals, and New Jersey Devils — to under 20 shots, which is the first time that’s happened since their 1977-78 NHL season, per Eric Hornick. They’ve also averaged 3.1 goals per game in January, up a tick from their average of 2.95 from October to New Year’s Eve.

Lehner, who detailed his mental health and addiction issues in an article for The Athletic in September, has helped the Islanders win 10 of his last 11 starts and leads all goaltenders with at least 25 appearances in even strength save percentage (.937). His crease partner, Thomas Greiss, has posted a .930 ESSV% in 26 games this season. The success in net has been improved this season thanks to the work of goaltending coach Piero Greco and Director of Goaltending Mitch Korn.

Greco’s work with Lehner opened the 27-year-old’s eyes to what he could be doing better in his own game, like simplifying it.

“I don’t move that much. It’s not very exciting in there. It’s not a lot of flashy saves,” Lehner said. “Them calming me down, teaching me a little bit on how to play my angles has opened up some potential that I have reading plays. Before maybe I’ve been moving a little bit too much, I’ve been scrambling a little bit too much; but a key part to my game that I feel is reading plays, being patient, and with them slowing all that stuff down it’s really bringing that out.”

Islanders head coach Barry Trotz noted that the play of both of his goalies is in part to Greco and Korn earning their trust and “connecting the dots” in their games that’s led to winning habits through 48 games. 

“When we do breakdown, it’s not necessarily all the saves but it’s when you make those saves and they’ve been making the saves at the right time,” he added.

The saves have been coming at the right times with the Islanders entering Tuesday’s game against the Chicago Blackhawks after two straight shutouts and a streak of 132:53 without allowing a goal. 

Among Lehner’s improvements this season includes handling the puck, something that he categorized as “below par.”

“People talk a lot the last few games we haven’t let in many shots at net, but it’s also a lot of the work me and Greisser are doing in playing the puck,” he said. “People try to get pressure, they dump the puck in and we’ve been able to break it out fast and all of a sudden we’re in their zone. That just keeps adding to what we want to do as a team here.”

Before this run of form, there was a span from November to early December when success wasn’t coming Lehner’s way. While he’s felt great all season, a back injury and a six-start streak of losses preceded this success for the goaltender and his team. But getting back to being patient and simplifying things has vaulted the team up the standings and helped the netminder to a stunning first-half turnaround.

“There were a couple games [earlier in the season] where I played really good but didn’t get a result,” he said. “That’s kind of sticking with it. We keep working with the goalie coaches, believing the structure of our team will take our steps and turn it around. That’s what we done.”

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Sean Leahy is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @Sean_Leahy.