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Lehner set to face Islanders for first time with Blackhawks

Goalie, who signed with Chicago in offseason, doesn't want to 'let some of these guys score on me'

by Tracey Myers @Tramyers_NHL / NHL.com Staff Writer

CHICAGO -- Robin Lehner is happy in his new surroundings but said last season with the New York Islanders will always hold a special place for him.

"There are so many different things," the Chicago Blackhawks goalie said before facing the Islanders at United Center on Friday (8:30 p.m. ET; NBCSCH, MSG+2, NHL.TV). "The turnaround the team had, the turnaround for me personally. I just thought it was a really good all-around year. Obviously, it ended a bit shorter than we wanted it to, but it was a fun season."

Lehner, who is 9-6-4 with a 2.86 goals-against average and .924 save percentage with the Blackhawks, was impressive with the Islanders last season, helping them advance to the Eastern Conference Second Round of the Stanley Cup Playoffs after they hadn't qualified the previous two seasons. He was 25-13-5 with a 2.13 GAA and .930 save percentage and six shutouts and was a Vezina Trophy finalist as best goalie in the NHL; he also won the Masterton Trophy, given to the player who best exemplifies perseverance, sportsmanship and dedication to hockey. Lehner went public with his battle against alcoholism, drug abuse and depression that led to suicidal thoughts in an article he wrote for The Athletic prior to the 2018-19 season, and he continues to be an advocate for mental health issues.

Video: CHI@COL: Lehner makes save on Johnson

Lehner expected to remain with New York, but on July 1 the Islanders signed goalie Semyon Varlamov to a four-year, $20 million contract. Lehner signed a one-year, $5 million contract with the Blackhawks later that day. Asked if there was extra motivation to make a statement in this game, Lehner said no.

"I don't want to let some of these guys score on me," Lehner said with a smile. "I've been pretty good against my former teams, so hopefully I'll keep that going."

Lehner has been one of the few bright spots for the Blackhawks (15-17-6) this season. 

"He's played great for us," forward Patrick Kane said. "I think he's come into the locker room, he's had a positive attitude and he's wanting to be the best he could on the ice. He's had a great season so far. I think it's pretty impressive how athletic he is for how big he is (6-foot-4, 240 pounds). You see some of the saves he makes, sprawling on the ground, two-pad stacks, and then other times he's just blocking the pucks. He's a unique goalie but pretty impressive what he's doing. I think he's been our best player all year."

Buffalo Sabres defenseman Jake McCabe, Lehner's teammate from 2015-18, skated with Lehner during the summer in Chicago, where McCabe lives in the offseason. He said Lehner was "super excited" about the opportunity he was getting with the Blackhawks.

"It's really one of the feel-good stories, especially how open he is being about [his struggles] and he's changing a lot of lives," McCabe said. "It's a very courageous thing to be doing and once again, I'm just so happy to see he's on the right track and doing so well with his career, too."

Lehner is 106-116-44 with a 2.71 GAA and .918 save percentage in 286 career NHL games with the Blackhawks, Islanders, Sabres and Ottawa Senators. Lehner and Thomas Greiss won the William M. Jennings Trophy with the Islanders last season for allowing the fewest goals in the League (196). The Islanders allowed 30.9 shots per game (12th in NHL) last season. The Blackhawks are allowing 36.1 shots per game, most in the League this season. Lehner's approach hasn't changed.

Video: CHI@ARI: Lehner kicks pad out to make great stop

"At the end of the day, the goalie's job is fairly simple: Just try to stop the puck, no matter the setting," Lehner said. "You just try to do that and battle as hard as you can. The results will come. Again, we're working on it. Hopefully it gets easier and easier."

Lehner is a vocal presence on the ice, which has made things easier for Blackhawks defensemen. 

"That's a big thing that he brings and obviously when you're on the ice, sometimes as a defenseman, you don't know if a guy's behind you in a good spot or you need to cover him," defenseman Connor Murphy said. "It's different details like that. It's important to have a guy who's not just going to be quiet and worry about the puck. He's going to let you know about positional things. They always say talking is such a big fundamental that's underused. We don't communicate enough because the game's so fast, but if you have someone yelling and reassuring things to you, it makes the game a lot easier."

Lehner has been what the Blackhawks needed to strengthen their goaltending, which also features two-time Stanley Cup winner Corey Crawford. Lehner has signed one-year contracts for three consecutive seasons but is showing he's worth a lengthier commitment.

"I'm just really hoping he can get a longer-term deal after this year," McCabe said, "because I think he's proven to people how he's on the right track and playing really good hockey."

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