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Islanders goalies working in tandem entering playoffs

Turnarounds by Lehner, Greiss helped New York earn first-round playoff series against Penguins

by Brian Compton @BComptonNHL / Deputy Managing Editor

EAST MEADOW, N.Y. -- The numbers during the regular season were nearly identical.

Robin Lehner started 43 games for the New York Islanders and went 25-13-5 with a 2.13 goals-against average, a .930 save percentage and six shutouts.

Thomas Greiss started 39 games and went 23-14-2 with a 2.28 GAA, a .927 save percentage and five shutouts.

Their play ultimately led Lehner and Greiss to the William M. Jennings Trophy, awarded to the goaltender(s) "having played a minimum of 25 games for the team with the fewest goals scored against it" during the regular season. New York also became the first NHL team in 100 years to go from allowing the most goals in the League (293 in 2017-18) to the fewest (191) the following season.


[RELATED: Islanders vs. Penguins playoff preview | Complete Islanders vs. Penguins series coverage]


"It's pretty special," Lehner said. "But it's not just me and Thomas; I see this as a team award. Just the way we fought all year, everyone buying into our game plan and playing defense and blocking shots, it's been a collective effort from the whole team."

Islanders coach Barry Trotz said last week he knows which way he's leaning in regard to who will start Game 1 of the Eastern Conference First Round against the Pittsburgh Penguins at Nassau Coliseum on Wednesday (7:30 p.m. ET; NBCSN, CBC, TVAS2, MSG+, ATTSN-PT), but he wasn't ready to divulge any information after practice Monday.

Instead, Trotz raved about the turnarounds Lehner and Greiss experienced after what they went through last season.

Lehner, 27, had a 3.01 GAA and a .908 save percentage in 53 games for the Buffalo Sabres and signed a one-year contract with New York on July 3, 2018. He revealed on the first day of Islanders training camp his mental health struggles that led to suicidal thoughts, drug and alcohol addictions and eventually rehab.

Greiss, 33, was coming off the worst season of NHL career; he had a 3.82 GAA and an .892 save percentage in 27 games for New York.


"I think they're both coming off similar situations in different ways," Trotz said. "Thomas coming off a season where it wasn't really good in terms of goals against, in terms of a lot of different areas as a goaltender statistically; Robin the same way, and the stuff off the ice.

Video: NYI@WSH: Lehner shuts down Connolly at the doorstep

"I think there's a little bit of a bond there, and I think there's a little bit of competition there, but a friendly competition. They enjoy each other's company, they support each other. Our goalie department's done a terrific job with them, (goaltending coach) Piero (Greco) and (director of goaltending) Mitch (Korn). I think they're very comfortable."

It's been the perfect tandem for the Islanders. New York returned 19 players from last season who were learning a different system after Trotz, who won the Stanley Cup as coach of the Washington Capitals last season, was hired to replace Doug Weight on June 21, 2018.

The evolution of young defensemen Ryan Pulock, Adam Pelech, Scott Mayfield and Devon Toews played a huge role in New York cleaning things up in its own end. An NHL career season by center Casey Cizikas (20 goals) and the additions of center Valtteri Filppula and forward Leo Komarov also helped limit the amount of quality chances Islanders goalies were facing on a consistent basis last season.

"It's been huge; they're the biggest part," Greiss said. "The team is pretty much the same as last year, but it's been a huge turnaround for the whole team. It's been a great accomplishment."

Lehner agreed that the turnaround was a team effort.

"I think I've played good before too, but this is a different situation," Lehner said. "Obviously I've made a bunch of changes and got good help. A lot of credit to our goalie coaches too; they helped me and Greiss a lot too. It's been fun, and it's going to be really fun going into the playoffs. It's been a roller-coaster year."

Greiss' laid-back personality has also been wonderful for Trotz, who learned early in the season that no matter which goalie he wanted to start, Greiss would be fine with the decision.

Video: NYI@FLA: Greiss squeezes pads to deny Hoffman

"You just come and tell him, and goes, 'Yeah, OK, no problem, whatever,'" Trotz said. "He's really got a demeanor of nothing fazes him. I could come in at 6:59 and go, 'I changed my mind, you're going in tonight,' and he'd be fine with that."

"Unbelievable" has been a popular word used by Lehner's teammates to describe the season he's had on and off the ice. Not only has Lehner performed like a No. 1 goalie, he recently celebrated his one-year anniversary of sobriety and is the Islanders nominee for the Bill Masterton Memorial Trophy, awarded annually by the Professional Hockey Writers Association to the player who best exemplifies the qualities of perseverance, sportsmanship and dedication to ice hockey.

Lehner was embraced by his teammates the moment they were made aware of his off-ice situation last September.

"He's got one of the best personalities in this room," Cizikas said. "From the moment he got here, he got along with everybody and everybody welcomed him. We've pretty much become a family since then.

"Everything he's done this year, he's worked hard for it. It's everything he's deserved. He's coming to practice every single day, he's coming to play every single game and he's given us chances to win. He's won games that we shouldn't have. He's been unbelievable this year."

Lehner needed very little time to feel at home with his new team.

"Really early, I just knew it was a really good group of guys and good people," he said. "It's incredibly rewarding to be a part of this group this year."

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