What was once considered a team weakness, is now the reason for the New York Islanders’ early season success: Goaltending. Through the Islanders’ first 16 games of the 2018-19 season, they don’t have a clear-cut number one goaltender but whoever head coach Barry Trotz has given the task of defending the net, they’ve done the job.
Greiss Bounces Back
Last season, Thomas Greiss wasn’t good enough. Despite a decent 13-8-2 record, he finished the season with a 3.82 goals-against average (GAA), a .892 save percentage (Sv%), and one shutout.
Looking to change his luck, Greiss reunited with goaltending guru Adam Francilia this summer and the results so far have been great. Through seven starts, he has a 4-2-1 record with a 1.98 GAA, a .940 Sv%, and one shutout. His 1.98 GAA is good for fifth in the NHL and his .940 Sv% ranks fourth among goaltenders.
While the numbers speak for themselves, it is worth mentioning that more often than not, Greiss has had to stand on his head to guide his team to victory. Performances that stand out, were the two games he started against the Carolina Hurricanes and against the Pittsburgh Penguins.
Greiss guided the Islanders to victory in both games against the Hurricanes, making 45 saves on 46 shots on opening night to win and another 38 saves on 39 shots on Oct. 28. Both games were in Raleigh, North Carolina and the Islanders won both contests by a score of 2-1.
On Nov. 1, Greiss kept the Islanders alive in an eventual 3-2 shootout win over the Penguins and was stellar when he needed to be. In overtime, he made two jaw-dropping saves, poke-checking the puck away from Sidney Crosby to deny a breakaway goal and flashing the leather on Phil Kessel in the final seconds of overtime. He also stopped all three shooters in the shootout.
A Fresh Start for Lehner
The Islanders gave Robin Lehner a one-year, prove-it type deal this summer worth $1.5 million and so far, Lehner is proving himself in his first season with the team. He spent the last three seasons as the starting goaltender of the Buffalo Sabres and prior to his first training camp as an Islander, Lehner bravely published a story talking about his struggles with addiction and bipolar disorder.
Now sober and diagnosed, Lehner has proven to be a solid addition and perhaps one of the biggest steals of free agency. To start the season, the 27-year-old netminder has a 4-4-1 record with a 2.59 GAA, a .921 Sv%, and one shutout.
In his first game as an Islander and first since sharing his story with the world, Lehner posted a 35-save shutout win in Brooklyn en route to a 4-0 win over the San Jose Sharks. He was also sensational on Oct. 27 in Philadelphia, making 23 saves on 24 shots in a 6-1 win over the Flyers. The first shot the Flyers put on net tested Lehner not even four minutes into the game but he slid across to rob Jakub Voracek. Who knows how the game would’ve gone had that shot off a perfect feed from Nolan Patrick found the back of the net?
Goaltending has never really been a strength for the Islanders, not since Billy Smith was tending the crease during the team’s dynasty years. Part of the reason the Islanders’ netminders have been successful this season is thanks to the two goaltending coaches general manager and president Lou Lamoriello brought in during the offseason.
The team hired Mitch Korn as their director of goaltending and Piero Greco as their goaltending coach. Korn has worked with Trotz with both the Nashville Predators and Washington Capitals and is responsible for developing several star goaltenders including Pekka Rinne, Braden Holtby, and Dominik Hašek. Korn won the Stanley Cup last season with Trotz and the Capitals.
Last season, Greco was the goaltending coach for the Calder Cup champion Toronto Marlies of the AHL. Much of the Marlies’ success is owed to their goaltenders Garret Sparks and Calvin Pickard, both are playing in the NHL.
For the first time since 2015 when Greiss shared the net with Jaroslav Halak (now dominating with the Boston Bruins), the Islanders have two capable goaltenders who can give their team a chance to win on any given night. Whether one of the two netminders is able to pull away with the starting job remains to be seen but for now, the team and their fans are enjoying the solid goaltending and hot start to the season.