NBCSN’s coverage of the 2019-20 NHL season continues with Thursday’s matchup between the New York Islanders and New Jersey Devils. Coverage begins at 6 p.m. ET on NBCSN. You can watch the game online and on the NBC Sports app by clicking here.
Since the start of the 2018-19 season the New York Islanders have been the NHL’s toughest team to score against.
Barry Trotz brought defensive structure and discipline to the lineup, while their goaltending has consistently been top-shelf.
It was great last year with Robin Lehner and Thomas Greiss.
It has been outstanding again this year with Greiss and Semyon Varlamov. While both have played great hockey this season, it seems that Varlamov is really starting to gain the trust of Trotz as he appears to be on track to make his third consecutive start (and fourth consecutive appearance) on Tuesday night against the New Jersey Devils (6 p.m. ET; NBCSN).
There is no official word from the Islanders as to whether or not it will be Varlamov, but given how early he left the ice during the morning skate it would be shock if he did not play. If he does, it will be the first time this season the Islanders will have used the same starting goalie for three consecutive games as they continue to maintain the goalie rotation/platoon split that they used so effectively a year ago.
As a duo, they have the fifth-best all situations save percentage in the NHL this season and the third-best even-strength save percentage.
[COVERAGE OF ISLANDERS-DEVILS BEGINS AT 6 P.M. ET ON NBCSN]
Greiss’ play shouldn’t come as a surprise anymore. Since joining the Islanders he has been one of the most underrated goalies in the league and outside of a disastrous 2017-18 season (when the entire team stopped playing defense in front of the goalies) he has been a rock in net when his number has been called. Even during his most recent stretch where he has been on the losing end of decisions he hasn’t performed poorly (he has lost five of his past six decisions, but has had a save percentage of .915 or better in four of those games).
Varlamov’s play is more of a pleasant surprise.
Other than whether or not they had enough offense to to take the next step as Stanley Cup contenders, probably the biggest question for the Islanders entering this season was whether or not Varlamov would be an adequate replacement in net for Lehner following his free agent departure to the Chicago Blackhawks. Lehner was one of the biggest stories in the league last season and was a finalist for the Vezina Trophy thanks to his stellar play in the Islanders’ net. It was kind of a shock the way the Islanders allowed him to leave as easily as they did.
But Varlamov has stepped right into that role left behind and played some of his best hockey in years.
The Islanders have earned at least one point in 17 of his 20 starts, while it has been more than a month since they failed to earn at least one point in one of his starts.
The Islanders may not score a ton of goals and they may give up their share of shots, but as long as they have two goaltenders playing at a level like this they are going to have a chance every night.
Brendan Burke will handle play-by-play duties alongside AJ Mleczko and Pierre McGuire at Nassau Coliseum in Uniondale, NY.
Adam Gretz is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him on Twitter @AGretz.