Getty

The Buzzer: Hot Islanders goalies, Jets take off

2 Comments

Be sure to visit NBCOlympics.com and NBC Olympic Talk for full hockey coverage from PyeongChang.

Players of the Night

  • Much like Jaroslav Halak with his 50-save shutout last night, Thomas Greiss stole the show – and a shutout – for the New York Islanders, stopping all 45 of the Hurricanes’ shots on Friday. He probably deserves the top spot; you can read about his performance here.
  • Blake Wheeler and Mark Scheifele helped the Jets dominate the Avalanche 6-1. Wheeler collected two goals and one assist, while Scheifele generated three assists. Since returning from an injury, Scheifele is on a three-game point streak, collecting two goals and five helpers. Wheeler continued to produce without Scheifele, but like peanut butter and chocolate, they’re even better together.

Note: if you go after them, you may have to answer to Dustin Byfuglien. That’d probably bad news for you.

Highlights of the Night

This was Patrik Laine‘s 16th power-play goal of 2017-18. Looks like his office covers a lot of ground/ice:

Sean Couturier continues to be a revelation as a top-line center for the Philadelphia Flyers, scoring the overtime-winner against the Blue Jackets:

Columbus carried a substantial shot advantage over Philly, but Sergei Bobrovsky made some great stops:

Factoids

Again, the Islanders’ shutouts are especially impressive because the defense has not been impressive.

Quite a start to Patrik Laine’s career.

Select company for John Klingberg.

Jay Bouwmeester: 1,100 games, countless surprised facial expressions.

Scores

Flyers 2, Blue Jackets 1 (OT)
Islanders 3, Hurricanes 0
Jets 6, Avalanche 1
Stars 2, Blues 1

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.

Islanders grab back-to-back, unlikely shutouts

Getty
3 Comments

Be sure to visit NBCOlympics.com and NBC Olympic Talk for full hockey coverage from PyeongChang.

As the NHL’s worst team when it comes to stats like shots allowed and high-danger chances given up, it would be pretty silly to pin all of the New York Islanders’ woes on their goalies.

Still, there’s a cut-off where you have to expect a certain level of competence even behind a faulty defense. Jaroslav Halak and especially Thomas Greiss have been part of the problem for much of 2017-18, but with the fan angst at a fever pitch to the point of generating money to buy “Snow Must Go” billboards, the Isles’ two goalies are doing the former-backup-turned-GM some serious favors.

On Thursday, the Islanders were bombarded with 50 shots on goal, yet Halak pitched a shutout against the New York Rangers on the way to a 3-0 win.

Tonight, Islanders coach Doug Weight gambled on putting Greiss in net instead of “riding the hot hand,” and instead rode the hot duo. The Islanders beat the Carolina Hurricanes 3-0 as well, even though Carolina nearly doubled them in shots on goal (45-23).

So, in a back-to-back set against Metropolitan Division rivals also fighting desperately for playoff positioning – albeit one also eyeing a possible rebuild at the same time – the Islanders suffered a 95-58 shots on goal disparity, yet won by a combined score of 6-0.

No doubt about it, these consecutive wins do little to quiet the argument that this team is really struggling to limit scoring chances. It’s fair to wonder about Weight, Snow, and others, even with these victories.

Still, a more confident goalie tandem could really move the needle.

Halak had already been showing some signs of improvement. He’s been heating up since the All-Star Break ended, in particular, with a .925 save percentage over the last eight games. The veteran goalie went on an impressive (if too-little, too-late) last season, so it’s possible that Halak might turn things around once again.

Greiss almost certainly needed his shutout more, though.

The 32-year-old carried a hideous .885 save percentage into this game. For a goalie with a respectable .912 career save percentage and no full season under .908,* it’s been a bewilderingly bad run for the German.

If Halak and Greiss could merely steal some wins here and there, the Islanders could turn their attention to adding a little bit of talent on defense, where they’re clearly ailing. Some injuries have made things more difficult, so improving in that area and getting better goaltending could make the difference in a postseason run versus another gut-punching finish.

Actually, considering the terrifying one-two punch on offense in John Tavares and Mathew Barzal, the Islanders could go from dour to downright scary if they merely become competitive in their own end.

* – Technically, he suffered an .860 save percentage with San Jose in 2007-08, but that was in just three games.

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.

Can Barzal, Tavares overcome Islanders’ putrid defense?

Getty
4 Comments

Be sure to visit NBCOlympics.com and NBC Olympic Talk for full hockey coverage from PyeongChang.

Plenty of NHL teams would kill to have centers like Mathew Barzal or John Tavares on their roster, particularly when they carry a combined cap hit under $6.5 million.

That’s part of what makes the New York Islanders frustrating, then: they have both, along with some other quality players, and yet they find themselves sitting right outside the East playoff picture at the moment.

Why? Well, it’s because they’re basically as bad at stopping people from scoring on them as they are at generating offense. They’re currently at a -17 goal differential for this season, so honestly, they might be lucky to be where they are today.

It would be convenient if you could just blame everything on their goalies Jaroslav Halak and Thomas Greiss, and there’s no denying that they are part of the problem. Halak’s numbers are mediocre (.908 save percentage) while Greiss has been abysmal (.885 save percentage, which is almost unthinkable for a well-paid goalie in 2017-18). Unfortunately, plugging in a better goalie might just shine a light on how terrible this team’s defense has been.

In seven of their last eight games, the Islanders have allowed at least 39 shots on goal and they’ve been out-shot in seven of eight as well; the only exception came when they outshot Buffalo 29-22 on Feb. 8 … and they lost 4-3. According to Natural Stat Trick, the Islanders have allowed a league-high 608 high-danger chances against at 5-on-5; the Washington Capitals come in a distant second with 560.

With 35.5 shots on goal allowed per game, the Islanders rank last in the league, and they’re giving up four more shots on goal than the 31.1 they average against opponents.

Maybe some of that comes down to the same creative talents making mistakes …

… Yet it’s difficult to shake the notion that something’s very wrong here.

Beyond personnel, you wonder if Doug Weight wasn’t totally prepared for life as NHL head coach.

He brings a wealth of experience as a fantastic NHL player, and he’s seasoned as assistant, but this appears to be Weight’s first head coaching gig at any level. Considering the career path of GM Garth Snow, the Islanders might have expected Weight to be another quick learner, but perhaps some of this comes down to systems and tactics?

Whatever is at the root of this problem, it should be treated as a crisis by the Islanders, particularly if Tavares is still making up his mind about his future. If Tavares wants to see more progress before he signs an extension, wouldn’t it behoove the Isles to dig deep to find any sort of solution?

No doubt, it’s an urgent time, as Weight admitted today.

Indeed, this is a pivotal week. Along with facing the Blue Jackets at home on Tuesday, the Islanders also host the Rangers on Thursday and then turn around for a road agame against the Hurricanes on Friday. That’s three contests, all against Metropolitan Division opponents. You could mark most games as important in general, but that’s especially true if those contests end in regulation.

On the bright side, the Islanders have Barzal, Tavares, and plenty of motivation. Even if that urgency brings with it some angst.

This team is really leaking chances, though, and you wonder if they can “outscore their problems.” The answer has been “No” far too often lately, even with Barzal rocketing up the charts.

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.

Islanders power way to weird win vs. Red Wings

7 Comments

Halfway through the third period of Friday’s game, the New York Islanders were down 5-2 to the Detroit Red Wings. It was a familiar situation: despite having two star centers in Mathew Barzal and John Tavares, an atrocious defense and struggling goalies were on the way to dooming the team.

Then Tyler Bertuzzi was whistled for a five-minute major, and the good part of this team took over.

In a ridiculous stretch you can witness in the video above this post’s headline, the Islanders scored an absurd four goals during that five-minute major advantage. With that, the Isles went up 6-5 … and even that wasn’t enough.

Despite ending with less than two minutes remaining in the third period, the Islanders’ defense buckled once more to allow the tying goal. Brock Nelson‘s hat trick goal was the 7-6 overtime game-winner in a truly baffling display of, essentially, all that’s gone well and poorly for this confusing team this season.

Also confusing: the Bertuzzi situation itself.

As you can see, Cal Clutterbuck drew the penalty on Bertuzzi … and he didn’t make any friends in the process.

Bertuzzi expressed his regrets for slashing Clutterbuck, even though he didn’t think it should be a major.

As the Detroit Free Press’ Helene St. James reports, Bertuzzi’s teammates agree.

Pretty zany stuff, right down to the game being sent to overtime after all of that. Oh yeah, there was also this odd fight:

Beyond the drama surrounding Clutterbuck and Bertuzzi, this night stands as a lucky win for the Islanders, even if it’s hardly an example of them cleaning up problems that have been plaguing them all season.

And those issues have been especially rough lately, particularly when Thomas Greiss has been in net instead of Jaroslav Halak. The Isles’ goalies have been bad far too often, yet it’s not just on them, as the defense has been porous. Coming into Friday, the Islanders were allowing an NHL-worst 35.3 shots against per game, four more than the 31.2 they’re producing. So it’s not merely about this being “live by the sword, die by the sword.” There’s clearly a balance issue for the Isles.

How much of it is on Doug Weight, the personnel, or the goalies? It’s tough to put a percentage on each concern, but you wonder if management is cringing at all of this, especially with Tavares’ future hanging in the balance.

The Islanders are a mess. At least on nights like these, they’re a fun mess.

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.

PHT on Fantasy: The Monthly Method

Getty

As we get deeper into the 2017-18 season, it’s tougher and tougher to add difference-makers in fantasy hockey. At least if you’re in a league with people who even try to know what they’re doing.

To get an edge and land the sort of players who might help you in playoff series (or to make the playoffs), sometimes it requires breaking things down in different ways. For one thing, you should definitely check out Joey Alfieri’s weekly add/drops, not to mention the great offerings from the fine folks at Rotoworld’s NHL section.

One thing I like to look at is: which players are really rising over the last month or two? Using various sites – both Yahoo’s fantasy section and NHL.com are among the ways to check these things out – I thought I’d share some observations that might help you in fantasy.

  • As far as the tippy top goes, it’s mostly players you’d expect, and thus players who’ve already been taken. The closest thing to an upset in the top 10 scorers during the last two months is Mikko Rantanen, a player many at least recognized was very good. (Rantanen is owned in 76 percent of Yahoo leagues. If he’s available … what are you waiting for? Sheesh.)

With that in mind, you’re probably wisest to break things down into different categories, whether that means narrowing lists down to positions or looking for specific stats.

  • If you look at defensemen, Marc-Edouard Vlasic pops up, especially (but not only) if you look at January. For one thing, he’s picking up his shooting a bit the last two years, with his current 2.06 SOG per game representing a career-high. “Pickles” is a stat-stuffer thanks to his blocked shots, but even more simply, he’s scoring at a much higher level. Vlasic already has 20 points in 49 games after managing only 28 in 75 last season.

You might miss something like that because Vlasic’s 20 points would only rank him 50th among defensemen from a full-season standpoint. His 11 points in January rank third among defensemen; it’s clear that he is along for the ride with Brent Burns, who topped all blueliners that month with 17 points. Vlasic is only owned in 44 percent of leagues. While he’s not necessarily guaranteed to be a top-10 guy for the rest of the season, he’s probably better than the lower-ranking blueliners on your team, particularly if you didn’t invest heavily in the position with high draft picks.

  • Checking out rising players from a monthly perspective could also help you identify people to watch list, even if you don’t add them. Sorting for time on ice, for instance, may help you clue into a player who’s rising in the eyes of a coach. If the luck comes in a wave, maybe you’d grab someone – even for a limited time – who might deliver?

Jordan Oesterle of the Chicago Blackhawks is an intriguing case, for one.

After barely being used in October and November, Coach Q rolled him out for an average of 21:47 in nine December games, and then almost 24 minutes per night in January. His 10 points this season won’t blow your mind, but note that nine of them have come in the last two months.

That’s not mind-blowing, naturally, but in deeper leagues he could be the sort of guy who might be intriguing, particularly if he rides a surge if Chicago manages to get it together.

Ivan Provorov and Esa Lindell are examples of higher-ceiling defensemen who might be available, too, but there are ways to dig deep if you really need to.

  • The monthly method can help you eyeball a goalie who’s finishing the season on a hot streak. After all, the past is the past, and a rough start could deflate a netminder’s value too much at times.

(That said, check their career stats, as a hot streak could just as easily go ice cold once you actually invest in a guy.)

Usual suspects

Using Yahoo’s monthly ranking tool, some familiar names came up. Here’s some quick context for a few of them, going from higher to lower rankings. Please note that I’m skipping heavily owned goalies since you won’t be able to get them anyway:

  • Jonathan Bernier (59 percent owned): Obviously, Bernier’s been a huge part of Colorado’s surge up the rankings. There’s some pedigree there, as a former first-rounder. There’s also plenty of motivation, as he’s fighting for a new contract. Just note that Semyon Varlamov could elbow his way back in if Bernier goes on a prolonged cold streak.
  • Carter Hutton (64 percent): Fantastic month, building a growing resume as a quality backup. Still, the Blues are very much devoted to Jake Allen; Hutton might benefit from a trade, at least in fantasy terms.
  • Jaroslav Halak (57 percent): Last season, Halak made a “too little, too late” run for the Islanders … but it was quite a run in March and April. Like Hutton and Bernier, he’s on an expiring contract. The Islanders are committed to Thomas Greiss contract-wise, with his deal expiring after 2019-20, but there’s not much luxury to just hope that Greiss works out of his awful rut. Halak is an intriguing goalie to watch.

***

Hopefully this week’s column gave you some names to consider, but most importantly, some tools to use to find even more.

Really, it might be fun for you to look at who’s been hot in January, even if you’re not a fantasy hockey type. Perhaps it could help you in Daily Fantasy, too?

(If so, I expect royalties.)

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.