How Robin Lehner and the New York Islanders are relying on each other this season
(Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)

Last season the New York Islanders and Robin Lehner struggled in a disappointing season for both. The two were brought together in the offseason and are off to a great start in looking to rediscover success.

On Monday against the San Jose Sharks, New York Islanders goaltender Robin Lehner made his season debut. Lehner faced 35 shots and turned away all of them, becoming the first Islanders goaltender in franchise history to record a shutout in his first start with the team.

Such an outcome for Lehner was incredibly special considering his personal struggles that he made public earlier this week. Now with a new lease on life Lehner is determined more than ever to make a difference with his new team and help others.

Much like Lehner, the Islanders were also looking for a fresh start this season. After losing captain and face of the franchise John Tavares in the offseason, the Islanders haven’t been given much of a chance to succeed.

In an article he wrote himself for The Athletic, Lehner described the crippling battle he faced on March 29, 2018. That night while tending goal for the Buffalo Sabres, Lehner suffered – in his own words – “a full-blown panic attack” that forced him to remove himself from the game. Lehner was dealing with a situation that has become all too real for many people today, dealing with mental illness.


According to the National Institute of Mental Health, nearly one in five people in the United States suffers from a form of mental illness (roughly 44.7 million people in 2016). How the medical community defines mental illness is broken into two categories. The first is any mental illness (AMI) which encompasses all recognized mental illnesses. The second is severe mental illness (SMI) which is smaller and a more severe subset of AMI.

Any mental illness (AMI) is defined as a mental, behavioral, or emotional disorder. Serious mental illness (SMI) is defined as a mental, behavioral or emotional disorder resulting in a serious functional impairment, which substantially interferes with or limits one or more major life activities.

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After trying to deal with depression and increasing thoughts of suicide by choosing to self-medicate with alcohol and pills, Lehner realized that he needed help to combat the emotional stress he suffering from. During the Sabres game against the Red Wings that night, Lehner had finally reached his breaking point. His symptoms became so severe that he felt he was having a heart attack.

Lehner sought out help from his family and the NHL to deal with his illness. He went into the NHL substance abuse program and was diagnosed as bipolar and ADHD with PTSD and trauma.

After spending weeks in treatment and finding the courage to battle through all of his personal demons, Lehner was able to find the light at the end of the tunnel. He wanted to continue his NHL career but. knew he had to move on from Buffalo despite the tremendous support he received from them in helping him.

During his time searching for another team, Lehner was discouraged at first and was afraid to share his diagnosis with any of the teams he interviewed with. Finally, the Islanders and Lou Lamoriello reached out and expressed their desire to have him join their organization.

After finishing last in the NHL in goals allowed and penalty kill percentage last season, the Islanders and Lehner seem to be a perfect fit for each other. Along with Lehner’s shutout on Monday, the Islanders have allowed just five goals in three games winning two of them. They are one of five teams who has not allowed a power-play goal. They have killed off all eight opponents power-play chances, which is the most among the five teams who have not allowed one.

The Islanders success this season depends on how they develop their secondary players under Tavares into team leaders. Head coach Barry Trotz and GM Lou Lamoriello have provided the organization with stability and have proven track records of success.

Both the Lehner and the Islanders are taking this season one game at a time, and are looking forward to reaping the rewards of believing in each other.

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