BUFFALO — This short, reunion-themed road trip will end with Islanders goalie Robin Lehner acknowledging his mixed emotions about possibly facing the Sabres for the first time.
The Islanders will play Buffalo on Monday night at KeyBank Center. Lehner made 36 saves for his second shutout of the season in Saturday night’s stirring 4-0 win over the Maple Leafs as the Isles faced former captain John Tavares for the first time. Islanders president and general manager Lou Lamoriello and forwards Leo Komarov and Matt Martin returned to Toronto for the first time since leaving the Maple Leafs.
Lehner, a 27-year-old Swede, spent the previous three seasons in Buffalo, but the Sabres did not qualify him as a restricted free agent and he signed a one-year, $1.5-million deal with the Isles. He is nine months sober and, on the first day of training camp, detailed the alcohol and pill addiction as well as mental-health issues he battled while with the Sabres and Senators.
“I don’t know, it’s going to be weird,” Lehner told Newsday, referring to a return to Buffalo against his old team. “Absolutely a little weird. A lot of memories there. A lot of great players and great people there in the whole organization. It’s mixed feelings. I had a lot of good times there. But I had some issues there, too.”
The Islanders (20-13-4), who have won six of seven, did not practice Sunday. It isn’t clear whether Lehner or Thomas Greiss will start Monday.
Lehner (8-6-3, 2.21 goals-against average, .926 save percentage) also stopped all 10 shots he faced after relieving Greiss in the second period of Friday night’s 6-3 comeback win over the Senators at Barclays Center. He has won four straight decisions and has allowed one or fewer goals in five of his last six starts, stopping 173 of 180 shots (.961 save percentage) in that span.
“When we play a 200-foot game like we did [Friday] and the majority of the last six, seven games, we’re really good,” Lehner said. “It’s easy to see where the shots are coming from. I’m trusting my defensemen. The forwards are helping out with cross-ice plays. It’s the way we need to play if we’re going to be successful.”
Lehner played in seven of the Islanders’ first 11 games this season before exiting a 6-3 win at Pittsburgh on Oct. 30 with back spasms. That, and a second unspecified nagging issue earlier this month, slowed his progress.
Islanders coach Barry Trotz said he trusts Lehner to handle a larger workload.
“I know he can,” he said. “But both have played well and there’s no need to tax one or the other. Robin has had a higher workload in the past and so has Greiss. We want to keep them both going.”