DALLAS – The upcoming holiday break will be unlike Christmases past for Robin Lehner. And that definitely is a good thing for the Islanders goalie, now nine months sober.
“It’s going to be a different time, for sure,” Lehner said. “It’s going to be a nice, relaxed Christmas at home with the family. Everything is obviously different for me, a new type of life in a positive way. It’s going to be special.”
Lehner was in goal for Sunday night’s 3-1 victory over the Stars at American Airlines Center, one last task before enjoying the NHL’s three-day break with his wife, Donya, and their two children.
The 27-year-old Swede signed a one-year, $1.5-million deal after three seasons with the Sabres and, on the opening day of Islanders training camp, publicly acknowledged his addiction to alcohol and pills as well as his mental-health battles.
Being able to share this holiday season sober with his wife and children is almost an indescribable feeling for Lehner.
“It’s really hard to put into words because it’s been such tremendous support,” he said. “Especially my wife. My wife has meant everything. She’s been there the whole way. This means more, being there by my side and going through it with me. And just having your kids now. My son is 4, my daughter is 1. This Christmas is going to be special because my son, being 4, it kind of means more to him. It couldn’t be better.”
The Islanders also have been there to support Lehner. The organization and president/general manager Lou Lamoriello were aware of his issues before signing him to a contract.
Lehner’s start on Sunday came at the conclusion of a four-game, eight-day road trip, the team’s longest since October.
“The biggest strength of the organization, my coaching staff and myself and Robin is that there’s good communication,” coach Barry Trotz said. “It’s either a text or a ‘How are you doing today, can I do anything for you or your family?’ I know Lou is in contact with not only him but his agent [Don Meehan] so Robin is in a really good place.
“I give him a lot of credit,” Trotz added. “This is a tough trip for a guy like Robin. You’re in places like Vegas and you have a day off, you have lots of down time. He’s had people in every city that he can call.”
Lehner entered Sunday’s game, his second start in three games, with a 5-6-3 record, a 2.54 goals-against average and a .917 save percentage. He made 36 saves in Tuesday’s 3-1 win at Arizona.
That was his first victory since Oct. 30, though Lehner had allowed only one goal in three of his previous four starts. He exited the 6-3 win at Pittsburgh on Oct. 30 after two periods because of back spasms. Between that and an unspecified tweak earlier this month, Lehner had trouble re-establishing his rhythm while Thomas Greiss took on a heavier workload.
But any on-ice struggles pale when compared with what Lehner has faced off the ice.
Which is why this will be such a merry Christmas.
“It feels really good,” Lehner said of getting sober and having his mental-health issues addressed. “Still, everything is different. It’s me getting to adjust to this type of life and this type of feeling all the time, dealing with hockey and dealing with pressure and dealing with life issues in another way that I haven’t done before. I don’t have my aids and tools, or whatever you want to call them. It wasn’t good tools. But it was my tools for a long time.”