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Robin Lehner Should Stop Playing the Puck

The Islanders standout goalie is good at stopping the puck but he’s bad at playing it

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Carolina Hurricanes v New York Islanders - Game One
Robin Lehner going for a swim
Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images

Islanders goalie Robin Lehner was stellar in Game 1 against Carolina. Just like he was in the first round against Pittsburgh. Just like he was in the regular season.

He’s a finalist for the Vezina Trophy, given annually to the NHL’s best goalie. He’s a finalist for the Masterton Trophy, and he’s probably gonna win it, due to what he’s persevered through.

He’s been absolutely sensational in these first five playoff games, stopping 161 of the 168 shots he has faced. That .958 save percentage is tops among all goalies in the postseason.

It’s impossible to overstate just how good Robin Lehner has been in net for the Islanders.

It’s when he leaves the net, to go play the puck, that we’ve got serious problems.

I don’t think there’s a nice way of putting this, really. Lehner is very bad at playing the puck. He’s bad at at handling it. He’s bad at passing it. He’s bad at clearing it.

Some goalies are really good at it, to the point that they can actually start the breakout themselves with accurate outlet passes. Calgary’s Mike Smith is probably the best in the league right now.

Some goalies are really bad at it. Last year, I made an eight-minute video showing some of the greatest Islanders turnovers of the season, and nearly 90 seconds of it was devoted to Jaroslav Halak’s hilarious bloopers.

Robin Lehner might not be quite as bad at playing the puck as Halak, but he’s much closer to that end of the spectrum than he is to Mike Smith. Thankfully, Lehner doesn’t venture out of his net all that often. And with the Islanders’ commitment to defense this season, none of his turnovers during the regular season — of which there were quite a few — ended up in the back of the net.

But I’ll tell you what, he came awfully close to full-blown disaster in Game 1.

By my count, Lehner left his crease to play the puck six times on Friday night. He turned the puck over on five of these six plays. On the one play he didn’t turn it over, he fell down behind the net with two Canes in the immediate area, which is, you know, not ideal.

Here’s the video:

Note: Lehner was officially credited with four giveaways, not five, but as I’ve pointed out before, the NHL’s official giveaway/takeaway stats are consistently inaccurate. Still, they’re at least in the ballpark. So to put this into context, only four times in the regular season did any Islanders skater commit five giveaways in one game.

I didn’t include all of the Canes’ zone time resulting from these turnovers, but I did add all that time up. As a result of his five turnovers, the Hurricanes possessed the puck in the Islanders zone for a combined 1:19 and they attempted a total of 7 shots in that time. Two of the misplays resulted in very dangerous scoring opportunities for the Canes, one of which only stayed out because of an incredibly lucky, desperation save by a diving Leddy in the ensuing scramble.

Now, I’m not one to merely point out a problem and call it a day. I’m into solutions. And after much thinking I have come to the perfect solution to this problem: Lehner should stay in his crease and stop playing the puck.

At most, he can leave his net to cut off a hard rim around the boards when he’s got plenty of daylight to do so (i.e., no incoming forecheckers, like to cut off a Canes clear while the Isles are on the PP). He can stop the puck, settle it down behind the net and let one of his defensemen take it from there.

But he shouldn’t try doing anything with the puck. Because he’s not good at it. And every time he goes out to play the puck, it’s a devastating, game-changing mistake waiting to happen. As David Marcoux, former goalie coach for the Canes and Flames, put it:

A Stanley Cup isn’t won with the puck-handling skills of a goaltender, but it can be lost because of a goaltender’s puck-handling skills.

The Islanders are down 1-0 in their second round series with Carolina. It’ll be hard enough to win four of the next six games without gifting Carolina a goal on an unforced error. The last thing in the world we want to see is Robin Lehner making this face:

Jaroslav Halak stares into the abyss.

Lehner should eliminate that risk by staying in his net.

Because when he’s stayed in his net, he’s been absolutely dominant.