Lehner handles everything Penguins throw at him

Robin Lehner is making sure that he continues to earn his starts by playing well against the Penguins in the first round of the Eastern Conference playoffs.

The saying goes if a team features two rotating goaltenders that start, do they really have one?

From Islanders head coach Barry Trotz’s perspective, he views it as a luxury and maybe a necessity. He knows he can put either Robin Lehner or Thomas Greiss to start, and the Islanders can win games. It worked so well that they made the playoffs this season.

A mark of a good coach is going with his gut of picking his player to put the team in a position to succeed, though. Trotz demonstrated why he is one of the best coaches in the National Hockey League by going with Lehner to start Game 1 against the Pittsburgh Penguins, and the Islanders goaltender rewarded his faith by making 41 saves to lead the Islanders to a 4-3 overtime victory.

This meant Lehner would start Game 2. He earned it because if he did not make the saves in the second and third period of Game 1, there would be no overtime, and there would not be overtime heroics by Mat Barzal (shot the puck at Penguins goaltender Matt Murray) and Josh Bailey (finished it to score on a rebound). Quite frankly, he deserved to be the No. 1 Star of the Game for keeping the Islanders in the game despite his defense giving the Penguins second chance opportunities.

Lehner played well again in the Islanders’ 3-1 victory over the Penguins Friday night at Nassau Coliseum that has now put them in total control of taking a 2-0 series lead in their first-round playoff series. He stopped 32 shots, and he was put to the test right away from the Penguins, who came out firing at him in the first period.

Lehner denied Sidney Crosby’s first shot, and then he denied Phil Kessel couple of times in the first period. In the second period, he stoned Matt Cullen’s shot, and he again stopped Kessel.

He frustrated the Penguins enough that they tried to rattle him by crashing into him and hitting him, and he still did not flinch. He kept going.

With each save, he gets better through confidence. That’s why the Islanders have the edge heading to Pittsburgh on Sunday. That’s why they are in good position to win the series.

This is not to say Greiss would not have done the same thing. We don’t know what he could do.

Trotz picked Lehner to start Game 1 because this goaltender played well against the Penguins all season. He went by the numbers and feel here.

Maybe Greiss starts in this series if the Penguins figure him out, but right now, Lehner is doing all he can to make sure he does not get benched by playing well. Competition and fear of failure can be a wonderful thing. Those attributes become a head coach’s best friend.
Lehner not only playing to stay on as the starting goaltender in the Stanley Cup Playoffs, but he is playing for a new contract next season. His performance will inspire other teams to overpay him since goaltending is such a commodity.

There’s a good chance this is his last year with the Islanders. With so many impending free agents on the Islanders roster, the Islanders general manager Lou Lamoriello will put more emphasis on re-signing guys like Anders Lee, Brock Nelson and Jordan Eberle. Besides, the Islanders could always call up Ilya Sorokin from CSKA Moscow to be the backup goaltender heading to next season.

Lehner feels he should be a starting goaltender in the National Hockey League. He does not want to be part of the rotating goaltending situation next season. Some team will be desperate to overpay him since good goaltending is hard to find.

But right now, he is worried about winning the Stanley Cup for his team and holding on to his role as the starting goaltender. If he does well, everything takes care of itself.

Beating the Penguins can only raise his stock value.

So far, it’s been stock up on his playoff resume.

Lehner knows he has plenty of work to do, but he hasn’t worried about being benched for Greiss.

The beauty of a two-goalie rotation makes both goaltenders accountable and prepared.

The Islanders used it to their advantage, and it’s been working.

Lehner hopes there won’t be a two-goalie rotation in the playoffs.

If he played like he has in the first two games, there won’t be.

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