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.

The Buzzer: Bergeron line continues domination; Lehner posts shutout in debut

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Three Stars

1. Patrice Bergeron, Boston Bruins: 

The Bruins top line of Bergeron, David Pastrnak and Brad Marchand has picked up right where it left off last season. Bergeron gets the first-star spot on Monday after scoring his fourth career hat trick and adding a helper in a four-point night. Pastrnak was exceptional as well in the Bruins 6-3 win over the Ottawa Senators, compiling his own four-point game with two goals and two assists. Marchand chipped in three helpers for good measure.

2. Robin Lehner, New York Islanders:

A new team meant a new start for Lehner, who opened up in the preseason about a difficult time in his personal life. Coming from the Buffalo Sabres after being signed as a free agent this summer, Lehner had to wait his turn to get his first start in the Islanders’ crease after Thomas Greiss got off to a good start, stopping 45-of-46 in New York’s season opener. But after Greiss was shelled against the Nashville Predators, Lehner was given the green light for his debut. Lehner appeared more than ready was ready Monday, stopping all 35 shots sent his way by a potent San Jose Sharks team to post his ninth career shutout.

3. Jack Eichel, Buffalo Sabres: 

Here’s a stat: Not since the lockout-shortened season in 2012-13 have the Sabres had a record better than .500. That’s incredible in its own right, and the reason why they were able to break out of that funk has been the stellar play of Eichel to start the season. Eichel fired home two more goals for his second and third of the season to lift the Sabres past the mighty Vegas Golden Knights. Buffalo had a tough outing in their season opener against the Boston Bruins but have rebounded, beating the New York Rangers and the Golden Knights to carve out an early 2-1-0 record. Eichel has been a factor in both wins after picking up a goal and an assist in the Rangers game. He’s billed as a stud and now has some decent talent around him to strut his stuff. Don’t sleep on Buffalo this season.

Highlights of the Night:

Bergeron’s backhand sauce is filthy here after leading the rush down the ice. He had a hat trick on the day, but this was arguably his best play from the win.

Eichel had himself a day, and this forehand-to-backhand sorcery was too good for Marc-Andre Fleury to ever have a chance to save.

Factoids:

Scores: 

Bruins 6, Senators 3

Islanders 4, Sharks, 2

Sabres 4, Golden Knights 2

Ducks 3, Red Wings 2 (SO)

MORE: Your 2018-19 NHL on NBC TV schedule


Scott Billeck is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @scottbilleck

The Buzzer: Bergeron’s at it again, Nash’s resurgence continues

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Players of the Night:

Patrice Bergeron, Boston Bruins: Bergeron did it again. The perennial Selke contender showed off his scoring prowess (again), scoring his second hat trick in 12 days. He now has nine goals and five assists in his past eight games. The Bruins have run up a 15-game point streak (11-0-4).

Rick Nash, New York Rangers: Nash scored twice for the second consecutive game in a 4-3 win over the Buffalo Sabres. Nash now has four goals in this past two games after putting up a goose egg in his previous 12.

Nathan MacKinnon, Colorado Avalanche: MacKinnon’s successes this season have been well documented, and he kept that narrative going with two more goals — his 21st and 22nd — and an assist in the Avs 5-3 win over the San Jose Sharks.

Highlights of the Night:

Bergeron’s hat trick came after some trickery by Brad Marchand:

A Double Dustin:

Robin Lehner made this dandy of a save. Unfortunately, he allowed a goal moments later. Still, this save.

Bonehead play of the Night:

Dustin Brown strikes again. This time in the wrong category. Someone’s getting suspended.

Factoids of the Night:

MISC:

Scores:

Devils 4, Capitals 3 (OT)

Bruins 5, Islanders 2

Blue Jackets 2, Stars 1 (SO)

Rangers 4, Sabres 3

Blues 4, Senators 1

Golden Knights 4, Lightning 1

Flyers 3, Maple Leafs 2 (OT)

Predators 3, Coyotes 2 (SO)

Avalanche 5, Sharks 3

Penguins 3, Kings 1


Scott Billeck is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @scottbilleck

The top 15 saves of 2017 (PHT Year in Review)

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(Pro Hockey Talk is taking a look back at the year in hockey. We’ll be presenting you with the best goals, saves, moments, players and much more as we bring you the best of 2017.)

There might not be anything more satisfying in hockey than seeing a highway robbery in progress between the pipes.

The late flash of the leather, the desperation save off the paddle of the stick or the elusive two-pad stack. They are all things of beauty and should be cherished as such.

So as we get ready to ring in the New Year, PHT looks back at some of the best thieveries in the past 12 months.

15. The Kontinental Hockey League can be a treasure trove of great highlights that not everyone gets to see on a regular basis. This save by SKA Saint Petersburg’s Mikko Koskinen is no exception. Simply outstanding.

14. How often does a save of the year candidate come around for a goalie? What about two in the same game? Garrett Sparks of the Toronto Marlies accomplished this rare feat.

13. The stanchion can sometimes be the goalies worst enemy. Sometimes enemies must be conquered. Joseph Woll did just that for Boston College.

 

12. Talk about timely. University of British Columbia Thunderbirds goalie Derek Dun’s save was not only spectacular in nature, it also sent his team to the playoffs.

 

11. Perhaps the best save at the World Championships this past year, Philipp Grubauer got the tip of his stick on the puck to make an outrageous save on Kaspars Daugavins.

10. Dominik Hasek retired several years ago now, but some of his magic still lives on in the NHL. Jonathan Quick did his best Hasek impression with this kick save.

9. The goalie stick isn’t very wide in relation to the size of an NHL net, but there are still where it plays a pivotal role in stopping a puck from crossing the goal line, as seen here by Matt Murray.

8. Sometimes pucks take a weird deflection off the boards. Sometimes they result in the flukiest of goals. Goalies are often caught out of position, but as Pekka Rinne will now demonstrate, it’s not all lost:

7. Two-pad stack alert. Thank you, Martin Jones.

6. Robin Lehner dislocated his entire body to stone Bryan Rust.

5. Carey Price in overtime, what a sight to behold.

4. Jonathan Bernier on Damon Severson. If you’re Severson, you can’t even be mad, right?

3. Poor Henrik Zetterberg. A wide open net and surely a goal, but then…

2. Deke… open net… no goal. Devan Dubnyk does the unthinkable against Gustav Nyquist, who probably still can’t sleep.

1. We don’t all agree with John Tortorella at the best of times, but when he called this the best save of the year, he wasn’t lying. This is simply majestic from Bob, so smooth. No sketch, to borrow a term from skateboarding.

Previously:

Scott Billeck is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @scottbilleck

Ottawa Senators ’15-16 Outlook

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What happens after the honeymoon period wears off?

The Ottawa Senators may be a great test run for such theories in 2015-16. After all, there was a stark difference between the team that left MacLean making sardonic jokes on his way out the door to the one that stormed its way into the postseason under Dave Cameron.

So, what happens when Cameron gets to hold a training camp with this roster? Also, what happens if their goaltending is merely average after Andrew Hammond’s stupendous, burger-earning run?

One interesting thing to consider: some credit Ottawa’s turnaround with Cameron as much as they did with “The Hamburglar.” The possession improvements from MacLean to Cameron were occasionally drastic, but the common theme is that younger players like Mike Hoffman and Mark Stone emerged while veterans faded into the background.

Perceptions change, but the personnel’s largely the same

There are exceptions (see: Robin Lehner’s exodus), yet the Senators are more or less the same team after a quiet summer. It’s interesting, then, that it’s still difficult to forecast this team’s future.

Hoffman, Stone and Mika Zibanejad saw big gains under Cameron. Kyle Turris proved that he can be a top center in the NHL. More will be expected from Bobby Ryan while Erik Karlsson is, well, Erik Karlsson.

The offense looks like a solid strength, but Ottawa’s roster faces plenty of questions. The defense sees a huge drop-off beyond their top pairing of Karlsson and Marc Methot while Hammond could easily generate a goalie controversy with probable starter Craig Anderson.

In other words, by defying expectations in 2014-15, Cameron and the Senators raised the bar awfully high for next season. Will they fall short of that mark?