Robin Lehner never doubted he still could play hockey despite his battles with addiction and mental health issues. But he never envisioned his first season with the Islanders going this smoothly for him and so successfully for the team.
“No, I was in a very dark place,” said Lehner, nearly 10 months sober, after making 19 saves for his third shutout in a 3-0 win over the Anaheim Ducks on Sunday afternoon at NYCB Live’s Nassau Coliseum. “I didn’t see much in the future at one point. My family, my wife, my kids, this organization, everybody is helping me.”
Lehner, 27, who signed a one-year, $1.5-million deal after three seasons with the Sabres, improved to 15-7-3 and lowered his NHL-best goals-against average to 2.02. His save percentage of .930 is second in the league.
He went 14-26-9 with a 3.01 GAA and a .908 save percentage last season. His personal demons and the Sabres’ shaky defensive play torpedoed his strong start.
“The whole thing of my story, it happened and it was very unfortunate,” Lehner said. “I’m very lucky to be where I am now. We were struggling in Buffalo as a team. I was struggling, obviously, personally. But if you take away the last month and a half, which is all on me crashing, I think I played well. I did the best with what I had.
“I said, coming into this season, I know I can play hockey, I know I’m a good goalie. I’ll keep working with this organization, keep working as a person, keep growing as a person within this group. It’s tremendous.”
Lehner was upfront with the Islanders about his personal problems before signing with them and detailed them publicly on the first day of training camp.
He said the help he’s received from the NHL’s substance abuse and behavioral health program can’t be overlooked.
“The league is amazing,” he said. “People don’t talk about what the league does. They’re going to be with me the rest of my career and after my career. They do all the necessary things to help me with my journey.”