They are the equal but opposing parts of the same equation. There is Robin Lehner, gregarious and intense, in the midst of a comeback year after battling various demons. And then there’s the man at the locker next to him, Thomas Greiss: laid back, preternaturally calm; the type of guy who won’t use 20 words when three or four will do.
Their names will be next to each other on the Jennings Trophy — given to the goaltender or goaltenders who allowed the fewest goals in the regular season — and it will be some mixture of this odd but compatible couple that could backstop the Islanders to a first-round victory against the Penguins.
Barry Trotz won’t say who’ll get the start on Wednesday night — true to his general philosophy of not revealing too much about his goalie usage throughout the season — but for now, it appears as if Lehner will get the nod.
Either way, both likely will get a chance to do their best against Sidney Crosby, Phil Kessel and the rest of that murderers’ row (the Penguins scored 274 goals this season, sixth in the league).
“We get along [but] we’re both fighting for ice time,” Lehner said after practice Monday.
“When I went down a couple of times this year, been injured, [Greiss] jumped in and played extremely well. When I got my opportunity, I’ve been playing well. That’s where a lot of the back-and-forth has been [coming] from. I don’t think anything has been predetermined or I’m going to split you here, split you there.
“If I go on a cold streak, I can tell you one thing, I wouldn’t be playing. If Thomas was not playing well, he wouldn’t be playing. It’s not that we’re being split down the middle. It’s a grander mindset.”
Lehner has started 43 games and Greiss 39. Trotz has tried to make it predictable for them, the coach said, to give them the best chance to succeed and play to individual strengths.
What’s more, a strong playoff performance will complete one of the better NHL stories this season.
Lehner, who essentially lost his job in Buffalo before being signed by the Islanders, overcame substance abuse and battled a number of mental-health issues.
Greiss returned after the worst season of his career, one in which he posted an .892 save percentage and lost most of his starts to Jaroslav Halak.
All that could even be one of the reasons for their strong working relationship, Trotz said.
“I think they’re both coming off similar situations in different ways,” he said. “Thomas coming off a season where it wasn’t really good in goals against, in terms of a lot of different areas as a goaltender, statistically and all that. Robin the same way and then the stuff off the ice.
“I think there’s a little bit of a bond there and a little bit of a competition there, but a friendly competition. They enjoy each other’s company. They support each other.”
And they are, it seems, more alike than they look.
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