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The William M. Jennings Trophy is awarded to the team’s goaltenders who allow the fewest goals during the regular season. Going into their 48th season, the New York Islanders have had a pair of netminders who claimed the fewest goals against, twice.
It shouldn’t surprise you that in both years the Jennings Trophy came to Long Island, the Islanders had a successful season. Here’s a look into the four goaltenders who were the hardest to score against in the 1982-83 and 2017-18 seasons.
Billy Smith & Roland Melanson
Everyone knows Hall of Famer Billy Smith and how crucial he was to the Islanders’ dynasty era that brought home four Stanley Cups. Less known is Roland Melanson, who had an outstanding season as the Islanders’ “1B” goalie in the 1982-83 season, and he should get more credit for his time on Long Island than he does.
Goaltending wasn’t the priority for most NHL teams until the Montreal Canadiens’ Patrick Roy burst onto the scene in 1984-85 and took the league by storm. Before the butterfly, NHL games were often high scoring affair. However, Smith and Melanson made it difficult for their opponents to find the back of the net.
It might surprise you to know that Melanson appeared in more games than Smith. In 44 games, Melanson earned a 24-12-5 record, with a .909 save percentage (SV%) and 2.66 goals-against average (GAA). Facing 1,201 shots against, he made 1,092 saves and allowed just 109 goals in the 1982-83 season. In addition to taking home the Jennings Trophy, the Moncton, New Brunswick native was named an All-Star and was the runner-up for the Vezina Trophy.
In three fewer starts, Smith’s numbers were inferior to Melanson’s. However, he was still better than most. In 41 appearances, Smith had an 18-14-7 record, with a .906 SV% and 2.87 GAA.
Despite being outplayed by Melanson, head coach Al Arbour went with the player who got him his first three Stanley Cups and played Smith through most of the playoffs. His 13-3 record with a .913 SV% propelled the Islanders to the Stanley Cup Final once again, and the Islanders claimed their fourth consecutive Cup over the Edmonton Oilers. Smith was also honored with the Conn Smythe Trophy as playoff MVP.
Smith and Melanson were awarded the Jennings Trophy after the 1982-83 season, and are just one of seven recipients to also claim the Stanley Cup in the same year.
Robin Lehner & Thomas Greiss
The Islanders and Robin Lehner had an interesting start to the 2018-19 NHL season. After losing captain John Tavares and starting goaltender Jaroslav Halak to free agency, it appeared that the Islanders were bound for a losing season.
Head coach Barry Trotz and general manager Lou Lamoriello had other plans, though, and they brought Lehner in on a one-year contract to man the net in tandem with Thomas Greiss. However, before Lehner even played his first game, he opened up to The Athletic about the mental health and addiction problems he had been dealing with through most of his NHL career.
“The Islanders were ready to take a chance with me,” said Lehner. “I was relieved that I could start a new chapter. When I was finally offered the deal, I was so happy. I finally had someone who believed in me, now sober,”(from ‘‘I could not stand being alone in my brain’: Islanders goalie Robin Lehner opens up about his addiction and bipolar diagnosis,’ TheAthletic, 09/13/2018).
After the article came out, Islanders fans from all over welcomed Lehner’s vulnerability with open arms. Riding that momentum and a fresh start to his career, Lehner posted a career-best 25-13-5 record with a .930 SV% and 2.13 GAA.
In addition to winning the Jennings in tandem with Greiss, Lehner also took home the Bill Masterson Trophy, awarded to the player who best exemplifies the qualities of perseverance, sportsmanship, and dedication to ice hockey. He was also one of the three finalists for the Vezina Trophy that season.
Like Smith, Greiss had three fewer appearances than Lehner in 2018-19. Despite the fewer starts, Griess had an equally successful season, posting a 23-14-2 record with a .927 SV% and 2.28 GAA.
Greiss had almost identical numbers to Lehner, and the duo allowed a league-low 196 goals, six fewer than the Dallas Stars (202). Their stellar season helped the Islanders become the second team in NHL history to allow the fewest goals immediately following the season in which it yielded the most (2017-18).
The Islanders’ goaltending situation will look slightly different going into the 2020-21 season. Semyon Varlamov will be the 1A, after a successful 2019-20 season and leading the Isles to the Eastern Conference Final. Mega-prospect, Ilya Sorokin will be the team’s 1B and will hope to play his way into the 1A conversation.
Sorokin is expected to be the franchise goalie for the distant future, and expectations are high. For the holidays this year, fans have another Jennings performance on their wish list from the newest Isles goalie tandem, Varlamov and Sorokin.
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James is a THW New York Islanders writer and podcast host of Nassaumen Hockey Podcast. A trusted source for Islanders content for many years at THW, James is passionate about keeping Islander fans up to date on the latest in Islanders news. Other content contributions also include his Co-Editor-in-Chief status for NYIslesBlog.com. For interview requests or to provide content info, follow James on Twitter.