Anger (Mis)Management: the Case of Robin Lehner

With the recent struggles of Robin Lehner and his history of having a fiery, emotional personality, here's a bit of insight into what might be going on with Lehner.

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He who angers you, conquers you. ~ Elizabeth Kenny

This quote seems to tell the tale of Ottawa Senators netminder Robin Lehner. Since Craig Anderson's injury on March 10th, Robin Lehner has been the full-time keeper of the Senators' crease. However, Lehner's time to shine has been anything but brilliant. He has been visibly struggling in the net and seems to lose his focus easily, often more noticeably when he’s angry and frustrated.

It was obvious in the game against the Montreal Canadiens last weekend that Lehner was angry. He was bumped, pushed, screened, and the referees weren't on his side. This resulted in Lehner basically going into Hulk-mode, yelling at the ref while almost pushing the net over. The game went to overtime, yet Lehner still hadn't calmed down, which didn’t help the Senators. The game against the New York Rangers had similar undertones. The team was up 2-1 and Lehner had played fairly well in the first period. The second period was a different story. Lehner's lost his stick and a Rangers player ended up on Lehner's back. I watched the play unravel and continued to watch Lehner even though the play was no longer in the Ottawa zone. He was screaming at the referees and his body language reeked of contempt. The rest seemed to be history as shortly thereafter, mayhem ensued.

Basically, it seems that too many emotions overcome Lehner, which narrows his attention span and causes him to miss important cues during a game. This can be especially damaging to a goaltender because it creates a kind of tunnel vision where cues in the periphery are not picked up (e.g., a goaltender might lose sight of a player in the corner). I suggest that someone help Lehner develop some coping mechanisms that he can use both off and on the ice to calm himself down. Some of these techniques include deep breathing, counting, self-monitoring, or even touching something to pass negative energy (I know how that sounds, but it’s worked for many athletes). Perhaps some of these sound basic, but mental preparation and coping mechanisms are widely used in the world of sport, especially in the Olympics. I don't think it will hurt Lehner to try to work on his mental game, he just has to be on board with it.

Altogether, I believe that Robin Lehner’s previous success (e.g., the Butterfield Trophy as MVP of the 2011 Calder Cup Playoffs) wasn’t been a fluke. He has all of the athletic tools to become a great #1 goaltender. He’s fast, he’s big, and he’s competitive. Those are things you want to have in a goaltender. Lehner’s downfall, however, will be whether or not he can work on maintaining his focus, especially when he’s overly emotional. However, with some work and maturing (remember, he's only 22 and goalies don't generally peak until their late 20s), I think he can get back to playing the way he used to and snag some wins for the Senators.

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