Robin Lehner is back in form, and his upturn is coming at the perfect time for the Islanders.
There was a palpable sense of dread from Islanders fans after the team was shut out in consecutive games last week against Boston and Montreal while giving up nine goals across the two losses. Though this surprising campaign has allowed for dreams of a playoff run, despite Lou Lamoriello standing pat at the trade deadline, suddenly there was worry that the Isles would limp into the postseason before crashing and burning in the first round.
The Islanders desperately needed a big weekend with a back-to-back on tap, and Lehner helped them pull off two victories by making 22 saves in Saturday's 4-2 win in Philadelphia before notching a 31-save shutout on Sunday against the Coyotes.
Lehner missed three games with an upper-body injury after being run over by Ottawa's Brady Tkachuk on March 5 and was the backup to Thomas Greiss for his first three games upon returning. Lehner then started against Boston last Tuesday, allowing five goals on 39 shots. Two nights later, Greiss was pulled at 8:19 of the second period after allowing four goals on 22 shots. Lehner stopped all 12 shots he saw in relief.
That Barry Trotz decided to turn to Lehner on Sunday for the second straight day was telling, as he's been wont to use both goaltenders to keep them fresh. The Islanders trail Washington by one point in the race for the Metropolitan Division title, and with six games remaining before the playoffs, Lehner can establish himself as the clear choice to start Game 1 of the first round if he continues to shine.
The 27-year-old has been Lamoriello's best offseason acquisition, having signed a one-year, $1.5 million deal. He has a 2.17 goals against average and .928 save percentage in 42 appearances (39 starts.)
He and Greiss combined with the grinding style Trotz has instilled has resulted in the Islanders allowing the fewest goals in the league (184) after allowing the most (296) last season. According to the NHL, the Islanders would be the second team in history to finish a season with the fewest goals allowed one season after allowing the most; the 1917-18 Ottawa Senators are the only other team to have accomplished that feat.
And Lehner's excellence on the ice comes after breakthroughs off of it, having last year been diagnosed with bipolar disorder and becoming sober after drug and alcohol abuse.
Lehner's story has made him a compelling figure for Islanders fans, one whose performances give the Isles hope as they march toward the playoffs.