Jaroslav Halak is one of the top five goaltenders in New York Islanders history; that’s a fact. Just look at the numbers. He owns the highest recorded save percentage of any Islander to play at least 20 games for the franchise. Believe it or not, Thomas Greiss is right behind Halak too. Only Wade Dubielewitz and Steve Valiquette have better numbers than the Slovakian netminder. However, he’s only stopped 91.4% of shots that have came his way during his time as an Islander, and Greiss has only stopped 91.2%. Both of these stats are below league average for this era of NHL hockey. Halak also owns a pedestrian 2.56 GAA during his time as an Islander, but still good for fifth overall. Looking at these stats in retrospect, however, to say that Halak is one of the Islanders best goaltenders is quite embarrassing considering the seasons he, and Thomas Greiss, are having.
Focusing on this year alone, Halak is 11-9-1 with a .909 save percentage and a 3.01 GAA while Greiss is 9-5-2 with a .883 save percentage and a 3.83 GAA. The only reason the two goaltenders have a winning record is because the team has scored an enormous amount of goals to offset the tremendous amount that are being allowed. This team is starting to look like the 2015-2016 Dallas Stars, a team that boasted the likes of Jamie Benn and Tyler Seguin on offense, but had two struggling netminders in Niemi and Lehtonen who hardly kept the puck out of the net. Despite winning the central division, they rotated goaltenders during the playoffs and couldn’t make it past the St. Louis Blues in the second round. They failed to make the playoffs the following year. Now, Niemi is on his third team of the year and Lehtonen is playing second fiddle to Ben Bishop. The Islanders need to avoid this fate at all costs.
There are two ways to fix this glaring issue, the first being to not place all the blame on the goaltending. Our defense is the least deep and experienced in recent memory. Travis Hamonic was traded during the offseason and his replacements have not met expectations. Ryan Pulock has been in and out of the lineup and has been a -10 so far this season. Dennis Seidenberg has also failed to repeat the season he had last year. He also has been in and out of the lineup and is a -3 in only 15 games played. We also lost Johnny Boychuk and Calvin de Haan, our second and third best defensemen, to injury. Doug Weight hasn’t responded well to these events and has set up ineffective defense pairings. Ryan Pulock is not a top pairing defenseman, yet. Adam Pelech is best suited to play the right side with Leddy. He skates well, can move the puck and plays fairly responsibly in his own end. That pairing is one that should be getting offensive zone starts in attempt to keep the puck alive on the attack and help the forwards create chances. The second pairing should feature Scott Mayfield and Thomas Hickey. This makeshift shutdown pairing would bode well until Boychuk returns to the lineup and should be responsible for many defensive zone starts. The third pairing of Ryan Pulock and Dennis Seidenberg or Sebastian Aho would be able to start in either end and could play well until the first or second pairing can return to the ice. If problems persist, trade for one of Erik Gudbranson, Cody Ceci, or Josh Gorges. All are having respectable seasons on bad teams and are free agents this summer. The picks we acquired from Hamonic and a prospect or two may work.
The second solution can be to indeed blame the goaltending. A viable trading option is Semyon Varlamov of the Colorado Avalanche. If the Avs aren’t in playoff position by the trading deadline, the team may opt to move the 2019 free agent in order to free up cap space for a productive offseason and attempt to compete for the number one overall pick. Another option is to call up Christopher Gibson from the Sound Tigers. The goaltender who helped thrust the Islanders into the 2016 playoffs should get another opportunity on the big club. After starting last season 6-0 in Bridgeport, he had a season ending injury but has come back strong this season and holds a 12-6 record. His peripherals aren’t half bad either, boasting a 2.46 GAA and a .904 save percentage. Giving him another chance may work for the Islanders because the trade market is not as appealing as one may hope. Thankfully, top prospect Ilya Sorokin is dominating in the KHL, and Linus Soderstrom is doing okay in the SHL. Hopefully one will be ready to replace Jaroslav Halak once this season ends.
The Islanders are in a tight race in the Eastern Conference as the calendar flips to 2018 and the push for the playoffs intensifies. They are only a point ahead of the surging Carolina Hurricanes and two ahead of the struggling Pittsburgh Penguins. The Islanders have three games remaining against each of these teams, as well as three against the Rangers, two against the Blue Jackets and Capitals, and four against the Devils. The team has put themselves in a good place to compete for a playoff spot in the second half but will go nowhere without at least one of Halak, Griess, or the defense as a collective stepping up to help the surging offense. Defense wins championships, and the Islanders need to find some, quickly.