Thomas Greiss

Getty Images

WATCH LIVE: Flyers visit Islanders on NBCSN

NBCSN’s coverage of the 2019-20 NHL season continues with Tuesday’s matchup between the Philadelphia Flyers and New York Islanders. Coverage begins at 6 p.m. ET on NBCSN. You can watch the game online and on the NBC Sports app by clicking here.

With their win last night, the Flyers moved into the second Wild Card spot in the Eastern Conference. They are just one point behind the Islanders, who sit third in the Metro. The Islanders moved into third place in the Metro with their win over the division-leading Capitals last night. They are looking to make the playoffs for the second straight season under Barry Trotz after reaching the Second Round last year.

The Flyers have alternated missing and making the playoffs in each of the past seven seasons. Last season, Philadelphia finished 16 points outside the playoffs but have turned things around under new head coach Alain Vigneault, who led each of his previous two teams (Vancouver and New York Rangers) to the Stanley Cup Final.

After going 13 games without a goal, Flyers captain Claude Giroux has now scored in two straight games. With three points (1G-2A) in Saturday’s win against Washington, Giroux reached 800 points for his NHL career (now 801 points in 876 games). He is the 4th player in Flyers history to reach 800 points.

This is the first of a three-game road trip for the Flyers, facing the Islanders tonight before heading down to Florida to take on the Panthers and Lightning. The Flyers have recently improved their play on the road, winning two straight road games and taking points in each of their last five on the road (3-0-2).

This game will be played at the Barclays Center in Brooklyn as the Islanders continue to split their home games with Nassau Coliseum. Despite the complaints from both fans and players, the Islanders have been excellent at the Barclays Center recently. They’ve not lost in regulation in Brooklyn this season (6-0-3).

The Islanders have continued to rotate Thomas Greiss and Semyon Varlamov in net. With Greiss earning the win last night against Washington, it looks to be Varlamov’s turn tonight. While the two have had almost identical numbers this season, Varlamov has struggled as of late, losing seven of his last nine starts (2-6-1).

[COVERAGE BEGINS AT 6 P.M. ET ON NBCSN]

WHAT: Philadelphia Flyers at New York Islanders
WHERE: Barclays Center
WHEN: Tuesday, Feb. 11, 6 p.m. ET
TV: NBCSN
LIVE STREAM: You can watch the Islanders-Flyers stream on NBC Sports’ live stream page and the NBC Sports app.

PROJECTED LINEUPS

FLYERS
Claude Giroux – Sean CouturierJakub Voracek
Joel FarabeeKevin HayesTravis Konecny
James van RiemsdykScott LaughtonTyler Pitlick
Michael RafflConnor BunnamanNicolas Aube-Kubel

Ivan ProvorovMatt Niskanen
Travis SanheimPhilippe Myers
Robert HaggJustin Braun

Starting goalie: Brian Elliott

ISLANDERS
Anders LeeMathew BarzalJordan Eberle
Anthony BeauvillierBrock NelsonJosh Bailey
Kiefer Bellows – Derick BrassardMichael Dal Colle
Matt MartinCasey CizikasLeo Komarov

Devon ToewsRyan Pulock
Nick LeddyJohnny Boychuk
Noah DobsonScott Mayfield

Starting goalie: Semyon Varlamov

Brendan Burke and Brian Boucher will call the action at Barclays Center in Brooklyn, N.Y. Kathryn Tappen will anchor studio coverage alongside analysts Patrick Sharp and Ben Lovejoy.

NHL on NBCSN: Islanders need Varlamov to get back on track

1 Comment

NBCSN’s coverage of the 2019-20 NHL season continues with Monday’s matchup between the New York Islanders and Washington Capitals. Coverage begins at 6:30 p.m. ET on NBCSN. You can watch the game online and on the NBC Sports app by clicking here.

The Semyon Varlamov experiment got off to a relatively good start this year. After the Islanders handed him a four-year, $20 million deal in the summer, they managed to get a lot of him in the first half of the season. Things have cooled off considerably though.

From October through the end of December, the Islanders were playing their signature stingy brand of hockey. Varlamov was playing well, the Islanders were winning games and everything was going well. If there were any doubts about their ability to make the playoffs, again, they were being put to bed.

Varlamov had a 14-3-3 record with a 2.43 goals-against-average and a .920 save percentage through Dec. 31. Everything is good, right? Sort of.

The new year hasn’t been as kind to the veteran netminder.

Varlamov has gone 2-6-1 since the start of the new year. For a good chunk of this season, head coach Barry Trotz had decided to split starts between his two goalies. Varlamov and Thomas Greiss were rotating in the Isles crease at times. The Russian also went through long stretches where he was the starting netminder.

Lately, that hasn’t been the case. Before starting two of the last three contests, Varlamov was on the bench for three consecutive games, and it’s easy to see why. He has four regulation losses in his last five outings and he has one win in his last six games.

[NHL on NBCSN: Ovechkin’s chase for 700th goal continues Monday at 7 p.m. ET]

In fairness to him, he had a stronger showing in Saturday’s loss to Tampa Bay, but they need him to build on that performance.

According to the splitting schedule, Greiss would be between the pipes tonight against Washington. Whether or not that ends up happing is irrelevant because the Isles need points in the standings. Heading into tonight’s game against their division rival, they’re currently in the first Wild Card spot in the East. They do have two games in hand on the Hurricanes and Flyers, but both teams are just one point behind them.

Tonight and tomorrow’s clashes against the Capitals and Flyers are the first of three back-to-back games remaining on the schedule, but they’re pretty much playing a game every other day. Their schedule is going to be hectic. So splitting games might be the wisest decision, but they’ll have to settle on a goalie heading into the playoffs (if they make it there).

Rolling with Greiss isn’t a huge issue, but it would be silly to have to leave your $20-million goalie on the bench if you make the playoffs.

There’s no other way to spin it, Trotz and his team need Varlamov to get back to playing like he did in the first half of the season or it might be a short playoff run or no playoff run at all. Of course, the team in front of the goalies can be tighter and that would help them a lot, too.

The Islanders have been one of the biggest surprises in the NHL since the start of last season. Can they keep that going or will they continue to fade? Stay tuned.

Joe Beninati will handle play-by-play duties alongside analysts Craig Laughlin and Alan May at Capital One Arena in Washington D.C. Kathryn Tappen will host studio coverage with Anson Carter and Ben Lovejoy.

Joey Alfieri is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @joeyalfieri.

The Buzzer: Vatrano helps Panthers win sixth in a row; Dodgeball ‘Storm Surge’

Vatrano hat trick Panthers six in a row Buzzer
Getty Images
1 Comment

Three Stars

 1. Frank Vatrano, Florida Panthers

The Lightning understandably drew a ton of attention for their rise up the rankings. Should we give their in-state neighbors some love, too? Consider the Panthers’ winning run, which cued up nicely with Joel Quenneville’s return to Chicago:

  • The Panthers keep overcoming mostly hit-or-miss (and sometimes hit by injuries) goaltending by scoring, a lot. Tuesday’s 4-3 win against the Blackhawks marks Florida’s sixth win in a row. They’ve scored at least four goals in every game during that streak.
  • The Panthers’ strong play extends beyond this streak. Florida carried a strong 13-4-0 run in its last 17 games.
  • They closed off a three-game road trip, all with wins. They return with another three-game road trip (so technically, it’s six in a row on the road). If they stand strong after this stretch, it would be quite a testament to what Coach Q & Co. are building.

Vatrano caught fire during this six-game winning streak. Tuesday represents the peak of that run, as the winger generated his second NHL hat trick. Vatrano also extended his point streak to five games (five goals, four assists for nine points).

He showed flashes of brilliance in Boston, and has largely converted that into a solid niche with Florida. Vatrano quietly scored 24 goals and 39 points last season. Tuesday’s outburst places Vatrano at 14 goals and 27 points for 2019-20.

Florida needed all three of Vatrano’s goals, as his third ended up being the game-winner. The Panthers were up as much as 3-0 and 4-1, so Chicago fought back, but not enough.

Count Mike Hoffman as one of the other Panthers who are scoring up a storm.

2. Josh Bailey/Thomas Greiss, New York Islanders

The Rangers generated a massive 42-18 shots on goal advantage on Tuesday, but the Islanders held on for a 4-2 win. Getting outchanced like that remains a cause for concern, but Griess bailed the Isles out with 40 saves.

(Quick thought: is it possible Barry Trotz needs to loosen up when the Islanders hold leads? They lost after coughing up a big one against Washington, and almost invited the Rangers to creep back in on Tuesday.)

Bailey generated three points (1G, 2A), so maybe you’d call him the bigger star over Greiss?

3. Teuvo Teravainen, Carolina Hurricanes

Justin WIlliams continues to make an early impact for Carolina. After producing the shootout-deciding goal in his return, Williams fired in two goals on Tuesday. Not bad, considering his modest 11:45 time on ice.

Teravainen gets the overall edge, though. Like Bailey, Teravainen scored a goal and two assists for three points. The shifty Finn is backing up last season’s almost point-per-game play (76 points in 82 GP), with similar results (48 points in 50 GP).

Andrei Svechnikov demands a mention of his own. The splendid sophomore collected two assists, placing Svechnikov close behind Teravainen with 45 points in 50 GP.

Kreider replaces Panarin at All-Star Game

The Rangers played without Artemi Panarin thanks to an injury. It appears that they’ll have a different All-Star Game representative, as Chris Kreider will replace him.

Another fun Storm Surge

If you can block a shot, you can dodge a ball?

Feisty Scheifele

The Jets are struggling, and thus Mark Scheifele is taking no guff.

Factoids

Scores

BOS 3 – VGK 2
NYI 4 – NYR 2
CAR 4 – WPG 1
PHI 3 – PIT 0
FLA 4 – CHI 3

James O’Brien is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @cyclelikesedins.

How concerning is Islanders’ recent play?

Islanders
Getty
1 Comment

It’s been a tale of two very different seasons so far for the New York Islanders.

It began with them storming out of the gate with a 16-3-2 record in their first 21 games. That start included a 17-game point streak where their only losses were a 4-3 overtime loss to the Pittsburgh Penguins — a game where they surrendered a three-goal third period lead — and a 2-1 overtime loss to the Sharks. They were less than 30 minutes and maybe two or three shots away from matching the longest winning streak in NHL history.

Since then? It’s been a very different story. In the 27 games that have followed the Islanders have been the definition of average when it comes to their results. Their 12-12-3 record during that stretch gives them a points percentage of exactly .500, while they have gone from what looked to be a slam dunk playoff team with home ice in round 1, to one that is just a single point clear of a wild card spot (Columbus is right on their tails, while they are six points back of the Pittsburgh Penguins for the second spot in the Metropolitan Division) and only three points clear of the non-playoff teams.

Depending on what happens on Tuesday in their game against the New York Rangers, combined with the results in Philadelphia (against Pittsburgh at 7:30 p.m. ET, NBCSN) and Carolina (against a slumping Winnipeg Jets team), they could either maintain their current cushion, or see it shrink to as little as one point.

On one hand, every team is going to slump at some point during an 82-game season. But this is starting to become more than just a “slump.” We’re now at 27 games (more than 32 percent of the season) where they have struggled. They’ve been average to below average more than they’ve been successful at this point.

Digging down to a more recent sampling of games, the Islanders have won just five of their past 15 games with a few ugly losses in the middle of that. That includes two to the Rangers team they play on Tuesday, and a brutal loss over the weekend against Washington where they turned a 4-1 third period lead into a 6-4 defeat. This is currently the worst 15-game stretch they have had in a year-and-a-half under Barry Trotz, and their worst since they melted down during the stretch run of the 2017-18 season.

The Islanders are mostly the same team they were a year ago, not only in terms of the roster, but also the way they play. They do not score a lot of goals, they give up a ton of shots and regularly get outshot, but still remain one of the top goal prevention teams in the league overall. Lately, that has started to change.

In the 27 games since their point streak ended they have dropped down to 10th in the league in goals against per 60 minutes in all situations, and 14th in goals against per 60 minutes during 5-on-5 play. Over the past 15 games, they are down to 13th and 24th respectively. It’s tough for any team to win giving up that many goals. It’s next to impossible for a team as offensively starved as the Islanders.

There are two things that should be a cause for concern here.

The first one is they miss Adam Pelech on defense. He may not be a household name around the league, but he is one of their best defensive players and has not played since Dec. 31. While their struggles started before that, he’s a difficult player to replace.

The second is that a lot of the Islanders’ success the past year-and-a-half has been goaltending driven. A year ago it was the duo of Robin Lehner and Thomas Greiss. Lehner played at a Vezina Trophy level, and the perpetually underrated Greiss was a perfect complement in a platoon role. Every team that gets bombarded on the shot chart and still finds ways to prevent goals and wins thinks they’ve found the secret to something. But shot volume still matters, and if you’re giving up a lot of shots, it stands to reason that quality chances (and goals) will eventually follow. In the end, it still really comes down to elite goaltending.

Early this season the duo of Semyon Varlamov and Greiss was still giving them that, and the wins were still there.

Here’s the problem: They haven’t necessarily been bad lately. In the 27 game stretch that duo has a .915 save percentage which is not only FAR above the league average, it is 8th best in the league during that stretch. Of the top-14 teams in save percentage during that stretch, they are the only team that does not have a points percentage of at least .540.

Even during the past 15 games they are still getting exactly league average goaltending (.904). And they can’t win.

It’s not that the goaltenders have necessarily struggled lately, it’s that the Islanders’ success is built around them being great. When they are anything less than great — even if they are still very good — the team struggles. Badly.

Even before this recent regression they needed another scorer or two. With Pelech sidelined they might need another defensemen, too. But the biggest thing they need is for them to give their goaltenders more support and not be completely dependent on them.

 

Adam Gretz is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @AGretz.

NHL on NBCSN: Islanders have another great goaltending duo

Islanders
Getty
1 Comment

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 phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @AGretz.