How often in the past did we hear questions asked about the New York Islanders goaltending in the post game press conferences after yet another bad loss where several soft goals had been given up? The list is endless and Capuano’s infamous no comment when it came to the goaltending told its own story although this should be a thing of the past going into this season.
For the last 15 years or so the state of the goaltending with the New York Islanders has been nothing short of farcical and often the subject of jokes around the league. From trading away Roberto Luongo for peanuts in order to draft Rick DiPietro to trading for Tim Thomas just in order to reach the cap floor with Thomas never even reporting to the team for the rest of his contract. Even as recently as last season the Islanders had the worst goaltending tandem in the league with it registering a save percentage of below .900 which is inexplicable. Yet going into this season the Islanders have the possibility to have one of the best goaltending tandems in the Metropolitan Division.
After, quite rightly, receiving a lot of criticism for failing to address the goaltending a year ago, Garth Snow traded a 4th round pick for pending UFA Jaroslav Halak and then signed him for a four year deal worth $18 million. He then followed this up by signing former Bruins goaltender Chad Johnson on a two year deal.In little over 3 months the goaltending situation went from abysmal to extremely good. Not since the healthy DiPietro years (of which there weren’t many) have the Islanders had a legit starting NHL goaltender and one in his prime at that. Halak is only 29 and should not start regressing for a good while and, if healthy, it is not unreasonable to expect a save percentage somewhere between .915 and .920. Bear in mind that the Islanders havent had a save percentage over .910 since DiPietro in 2006/7 with .919 and it is not coincidence at all that this was the last full season the Islanders made the play offs.
Detractors have often pointed out that Halak’s previous stats are inflated because he has been playing behind top defenses, this is only ever so slightly the case. Advanced stats go deeper into this and debunk the myth that Halak’s stats are purely down to his defense and show that he is a very good goaltender and will flourish as the established number 1 goaltender, something he didn’t have in Montreal or St. Louis and that confidence of knowing you are the number 1 can only be a good thing for Halak.
Another major fault with the New York Islanders goaltending in recent years has been the lack of a quality backup, something which destroyed the season last year. After Nabokov fell to injury in the middle of November, Kevin Poulin and Anders Nilsson were expected to carry the load while Nabokov was injured and unsurprisingly it didn’t end well. While they both showed sporadic flashes, neither ever showed enough consistency to show they belong at the NHL level and it surprised nobody when Poulin ended up back in Bridgeport and Nilsson is now over in Europe.
Many people thought that Snow would decide to keep Nabokov for another season as back up to Halak but instead let him go to free agency and brought in Johnson, someone who put up excellent stats as Tuuka Rask’s back up.While of course it would be unreasonable to expect Johnson to put up similar numbers (2.10 and .925) for the Islanders, it would not be unreasonable to expect him to play around 30 games and lighten the load for Halak and carry the load if Halak missed any time due to injury.
Garth also went that step further and signed David Leggio to a one year two way deal to be the starter in Bridgeport. Having had several injury crises in goal in recent years, especially in 2010/11 where 6 goaltenders played games, it is very underrated to have the quality of an experienced goaltender in Bridgeport in case of emergency and also to help the very young defense up there.
If the Islanders are to return to the play offs this season it has to start in goal and for once there is genuine confidence that the goaltenders in place for this season will get the job done and put the team in position to win games on a regular basis and if they can help cut out the third period collapses then the Islanders will certainly be in a strong position this season, great goaltending can get even distinctly average teams into the play offs and beyond, just look at the Rangers last season. If Halak and Johnson produce like they are expected to, the Islanders will make the play offs this season.