Before facing his old team in the Buffalo Sabres, New York Islanders goalie Robin Lehner leads the league in the goals-against average category with a 2.21.
It’s been an incredible turnaround for the New York Islanders between the pipes this season. In 2017 the Isles held the worst goaltending numbers in the league with a .900SV% and were worst in the league in goals against per game at 3.57.
Now in 2018, the Islanders sit tied for second in terms of save percentage with a 0.916SV%. And hold a goals-against per game of 2.54 (third lowest in the NHL).
The tandem of Thomas Greiss and Robin Lehner have been fantastic since the start of the season. But I want to focus on Robin Lehner who leads the NHL in GAA with a 2.21.
The expectation on Robin Lehner going into the season was low. After a terrible season with the Buffalo Sabres in 2017-18 Lehner became an unrestricted free agent earlier than anticipated after they decided not to give the RFA a qualifying offer.
In September we found out via the Athletic (subscription required) that Lehner is dealing with mental health issues. He came forward to bravely talk about his issues and how he’d been diagnosed as bipolar and ADHD with PTSD.
Players never come forward to discuss their mental health issues and rarely do so in this candid manner. What he did took a lot of courage and was rightful applauded. Hopefully, this opens the door for players to ask for the help they need.
The expectation on Lehner this season, who was signed to a single year $1,5 million deal, was to stay healthy and play as though he belonged in the NHL. That meant, at least at a league average.
In 2017-18 the league average across the two main goalie stats (GAA and SV%) were 2.78GAA and a 0.912SV%. If Robin Lehner could float around those numbers then his season would be a success.
With just under half of the 2018-19 season over, he’s exceeded those expectations by a long shot. In 18 games player Lehner is 8-6-3 with a nice 2.21GAA and a 0.926SV%. Compared to his colleagues between the pipes* from around the league Lehner ranks first for GAA and second for SV%.
*goalies who played at least 12 games this season.
Lehner is not only looking as though he belongs but he’s leading the way in the NHL.
It doesn’t seem like Lehner is doing anything spectacular out there. He’s stealing games for the Isles but he isn’t doing it with an endless supply of highlight reel saves. He’s doing what a goalie of his size and style should be doing.
Lehner, standing 6’4″, isn’t a goalie in the mold of a Jonathan Quick, he’s a shot blocker. Lehner gets his big body in the way of the puck. Being in the right place at the right time is paramount to enabling him to do so. He’s got to both see the movement of the puck and that movement needs to be limited.
Moving from left-to-right can easily do in a goalie like Robin Lehner. The New York Islanders defensive structure has enabled Lehner to both see the puck and put himself in the position to stop it.
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Compared to last seasons 3.01GAA and 0.908SV% he’s a totally different goalie. Robin Lehner has lights out for the New York Islanders. In order to get into the playoffs, the Islanders were going to have to get some solid goaltending. With Robin Lehner, the Isles are getting that.