The Islanders can only hope that Robin Lehner’s return to the starter’s net is a harbinger of an extended healthy stretch for the goalie.
Coach Barry Trotz wants both Lehner and Thomas Greiss to get a fair share of the games so both can play at their peak level. But Lehner has struggled with nagging injury issues over the past six weeks.
The Islanders did not practice on Tuesday after Lehner made 23 saves in Monday night’s 2-1 shootout loss to the Penguins at NYCB Live’s Nassau Coliseum. It would not be surprising if Lehner gets his first back-to-back starts since twin 4-2 losses at Tampa Bay and Florida on Nov. 8-10 when the Islanders face the Vegas Golden Knights on Wednesday night at Barclays Center.
“The way it’s been going, it’s hard to put a finger on it,” said Lehner, 4-5-3 with a 2.63 goals-against average and a .916 save percentage. “I feel like I had a really good start to the season and I had a really good game in Pittsburgh but I got an annoying injury and I missed a period of time. Greisser comes in and plays really, really well and that’s great for us, great for our team.”
Lehner suffered back spasms and was forced to exit a 6-3 win at Pittsburgh on Oct. 30 after two periods. Since then, he’s appeared in just six of the Islanders’ last 18 games.
His last start prior to Monday was a 35-save performance in a 2-1 shootout loss at Boston on Nov. 29. But Lehner was unable to dress the following two games because of a unspecified injury.
“He was awesome,” defenseman Johnny Boychuk said after Monday’s game. “He played extremely well and we need that from him.”
“I thought Robin played pretty well the last couple of outings,” Trotz added. “He’s had a couple of setbacks in terms of injuries. It was a good game for him.”
Greiss is 10-6-1 with a 2.58 GAA and a .918 save percentage. He made 23 saves in Saturday’s 3-2 win at Detroit, though Trotz acknowledged he considered pulling Greiss early in the first period before the Red Wings’ second goal was successfully overturned on an offside challenge. Detroit did score a second goal, but Greiss then helped the Islanders rally for the win.
“That tells me a lot about Thomas,” Trotz said. “He knew that (being pulled) was probably close and he did tighten [his game] up.”
Lehner is playing for a longer-term deal after signing a one-year, $1.5-million deal following three seasons with the Sabres. But he appreciates how Trotz has handled the goalies.
“In the beginning, when I played good, they let me play,” Lehner said. “When Greiss played good, they let him play. That’s the way it should be.”