In a bigger picture sense, Wednesday stands as a victory lap for the New York Islanders, a franchise celebrating the successful bid to land a new arena at Belmont Park, bringing the team back to Long Island.
Scroll the team’s feed you’ll see enough happy faces and quotes, you’d almost expect Daniel Bryan to show up to lead a “Yes!” chant himself.
Still, let’s not forget that, even with a great one-two punch of scoring lines, the Islanders have dropped games here and there, including Tuesday’s 6-3 loss to the Detroit Red Wings. If the score itself didn’t tip you off, the main culprit has been poor goaltending. You could reasonably argue that the Isles have suffered from the worst netminding in the NHL so far:
On paper, Thomas Greiss and Jaroslav Halak might not rank as “elites,” yet you could ask for a worse platoon. Greiss carries a solid .913 save percentage for his career, while Halak is even better at .916. To see them combine (with a near-equal number of starts) for a retro sub-90 percent mark is troubling.
It must be ratchet up the concern that Greiss (signed through 2019-20, .883 save percentage) is struggling more than Halak (expiring contract, .905 save percentage). Either way, it has been a problem for an Islanders team that’s otherwise providing reasons for optimism.
Head coach Doug Weight didn’t throw his goalies under the bus after last night’s loss, even though he seems confounded by their struggles:
Allow me this question, though: are they, to some extent, set up to fail?
I encourage a team with some firepower like the Islanders to be aggressive; the Penguins and other teams have embraced that mindset to often-impressive results. Even so, taking risks almost always means exposing yourself to mistakes, and the Isles are a double-edged sword.
According to Natural Stat Trick’s numbers, the Islanders have allowed 305 high-danger chances at even strength, the sixth-highest total in the NHL so far. That sounds bad, but it might just be the nature of the beast, as they’ve generated 318 high-danger chances of their own, good for seventh in the league.
Let’s not forget that this is Weight’s first full season as an NHL head coach, as he took over in the interim last season.
Winning the chances battles and setting up a difference-making system isn’t easy for any bench boss, let alone someone who’s fairly new to the gig. Perhaps Weight might find a better way to leverage his team’s strengths while painting over weaknesses as time goes on?
One other option
Naturally, systems and chances can only explain so many struggles for goalies. The buck ultimately stops with Greiss and Halak. In Halak’s case, motivation really shouldn’t be an issue, at least if he wants to try to avoid too big of a drop in pay after this season.
(He’s almost certainly going to have a lighter wallet going forward.)
There is one other consideration for GM Garth Snow: what if he makes a tweak in net?
One interesting idea, albeit somewhat outside-the-box, would be to propose a “trading of problems” in net. Perhaps the Detroit Red Wings would send the Islanders Petr Mrazek for Halak and some sort of sweetener, even if it likely wouldn’t come at the price Detroit hopes for in a more traditional player-for-futures deal.
Now, there’s a strong chance that one or both of Greiss and Halak will improve as the season goes along. Look at 2016-17 for Halak alone: he went from being sent to the AHL to nearly powering an Islanders push to the playoffs. If anything, the guy is at his best when people disregard his chances (just consider how unlikely his run with the Montreal Canadiens really was). Greiss, too, has shown reasonable potential to be a starting goalie in the NHL.
Still, Weight and Snow should both keep their eyes open regarding ways to make this better, whether the goaltending improvements come from within or from a bolder move.
Hey, they might just keep a certain superstar happy if they hit the right buttons and make a run of it in the East. Doing so would be a lot better with the goaltending they expected to get, right?