Thomas Greiss

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The Buzzer: Capitals lead the NHL; Slim to Nilsson

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Three Stars

1. Thomas Greiss, New York Islanders

There were a handful of strong goaltending performances again on Saturday, and you can even gripe about the placement of stars here, as Greiss didn’t have the most saves in stopping 37 out of 38 shots on goal.

Greiss might have been asked to do the most of any winning goalie, though.

Not only was there no margin of error, as the Islanders beat the Panthers 2-1, but Greiss faced a mixture of quality and quantity against the Cats. According to Natural Stat Trick, Greiss faced 20 high-danger scoring chances, and the Panthers’ expected goals were at 4.41. To hold the Panthers to one goal – and only on the power play – is another great night of work for a goalie who probably deserves more hype at this point.

2. Anders Nilsson, Ottawa Senators

If you look at the bare stats alone, Nilsson had a “better” night than Greiss, allowing one goal on 39 SOG (38 to 37 saves).

We can debate Nilsson’s Saturday vs. Greiss’ Saturday, yet it’s getting tougher to reasonably argue which goalie should be starting for Ottawa — at least if the Senators don’t want to merely tank. Nilsson is now on a three-game winning streak, and his save percentage is up to a splendid .930. He’s shown some signs of being a well-above-average backup goalie for a little while now, especially since joining the Senators.

All due respect to Craig Anderson‘s tremendous accomplishments, particularly helping them come within an OT goal of advancing to the 2017 Stanley Cup Final, but times haven’t been great for the veteran goalie. Anderson’s save percentage is a rough .897 this season, and he’s been putting up replacement-level numbers since 2017-18.

Frankly, tanking might be the best option for Ottawa, so theoretically they could merely split starts for at least a while. If this continues, they won’t be able to get away with even a platoon for a whole lot longer, though.

3. Evgeny Kuznetsov, Washington Capitals, or pick your favorite two-point night

Pointing to Kuznetsov’s goal and assist is a way of moving up the Capitals’ winning streak in the “batting order,” if you will.

The funny thing about the Islanders’ remarkable 10-game winning streak (and their still-active point streak of 12 games) is that, if you were looking at the standings, you might have thought “Huh, but the Capitals are still ahead.” That’s because Washington’s been almost as hot, and with a win on Saturday, the Caps are now at 29 standings points. Which means they’re leading the NHL.

Death, taxes, Capitals winning their division.

Nicklas Backstrom also had two goals in that win, but his was an empty-netter, so Kuznetsov feels like the safer choice. There are plenty of other options for star three, even if you limit your choices to skaters, including Cale Makar and Patrick Maroon, who both scored two goals.

Highlight of the Night

I didn’t mention Shea Weber yet, because one of his two goals earns highlight of the night consideration. If you want more on his night, there’s a fancy post for it and everything. Weber finished the night with two PPG to reach 101 for his career, the 11th most among defensemen in league history (or at least since the stat began being recorded).

Notable injuries

Factoids

Some might argue this package is the highlight of the night, then.

Scores

NYI 2 – FLA 1
TBL 5 – BUF 3
PHI 3 – TOR 2 (SO)
MTL 3 – LAK 2
OTT 4 – CAR 1
PIT 3 – CHI 2 (SO)
WSH 5 – VGK 2
MIN 4 – ARI 3
COL 4 – CBJ 2
STL 3 – CGY 2 (OT)
SJS 2 – NSH 1 (SO)

MORE:
• Pro Hockey Talk’s Stanley Cup picks.
• Your 2019-20 NHL on NBC TV schedule

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.

Stunning numbers: Islanders’ 10-game winning streak edition

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During the 2019-20 NHL season we will take an occasional look at some stunning numbers from around the league. Today we take a look at some stunning numbers on the New York Islanders’ 10-game winning streak.

No one can stay ahead of them. Here is a weird one. During the current streak the Islanders have spent just 95 minutes trailing on the scoreboard, by far the lowest total in the NHL over that stretch (the next closest team is Boston, having spent 120 minutes playing from behind since Oct. 12). That is kind of what you might expect from a team that has won 10 games in a row, always playing with the lead. So what’s wild about that? They have given up the first goal in six of the 10 games, including their most recent win on Tuesday night against the Ottawa Senators. They have fallen behind early more often than not and then immediately erased the deficit before locking down the rest of the game.

Everybody is contributing to the offense. They have scored 34 goals during the 10 games, one of their best offensive stretches over the past two years, and it is a total team-wide contribution. They have received at least one goal from 15 different players, at least two goals from seven different players, and at least four goals from four different players (Mathew Barzal, Derick Brassard, Josh Bailey, and Anders Lee).

Nine different players have been credited with a game-winning goal.

They are not getting the benefit of any power play time. Almost all of that offense has been generated during 5-on-5 play with only three of those 34 goals coming on the power play. And it’s not necessarily because the power play has struggled. It’s because they are not getting any power plays. At all. They have been on the power play just 15 times over the past 10 games (for a total of 24 minutes) which is by far the lowest total in the league during that stretch.

The fewest power play opportunities per game since Oct. 12:

  • Florida Panthers: 2.6 per game
  • Tampa Bay Lightning: 2.6 per game
  • Anaheim Ducks: 2.6 per game
  • Edmonton Oilers: 2.5 per game
  • Pittsburgh Penguins: 2.3 per game
  • New York Islanders: 1.5 per game

The penalty kill has been nearly perfect. While they are not getting the benefit of many power plays, they have only been shorthanded 30 times, allowing just one goal and actually scoring a shorthanded goal. Their penalty kill goal differential is, quite literally, 0 over the past 10 games.

The goalies have been identical. How identical? Check out the numbers during the streak.

  • Thomas Greiss: Five games played, 154 shots against, 145 saves, .942 save percentage, 5-0-0 record
  • Semyon Varlamov: Five games played, 151 shots against, 143 saves, .947 save percentage, 5-0-0 record

You are going to win a lot of games when you get that from two different goalies.

About the shot attempts against. Islanders fans are probably sick of hearing this, but one of the biggest reasons people are always waiting for the bottom to fall out on this team is the simple fact they give up a lot of shot attempts and don’t generate a lot of their own. This is usually bad and there is plenty of evidence to back that up. Last year only two of the bottom-11 teams in the league in shot attempt differential made the playoffs. The year before only three of the bottom 12 teams made it. The year before that only two of the bottom-10 made it. Those teams generally don’t do well, and the ones that do always seem to think they are the ones that stumbled upon the key to “keeping pucks to the outside.” Then almost all of them regress the following year and end up missing the playoffs. The more time you spend defending, the more chances you give up, the more goals you give up. It’s not hard to figure that out.

The Islanders are doing it again, and especially during this streak.

Over the past 10 games they have been one of the league’s worst teams at allowing shot attempts, which seems bad. The thing is, they have been one of the rare teams that might actually be doing a good job of limiting chances. While they give up a lot of attempts, they don’t allow many to actually get to the net. They have also been one of the best teams at limiting high-danger chances over the past 10 games (only 9.38 per game, eighth lowest in the league).

(All data via Natural Stat Trick)

Winning streaks like this usually mean playoffs. And by usually, I mean every time with only two exceptions. The 2016-17 Philadelphia Flyers and 2018-19 Buffalo Sabres are the only teams in NHL history to have a winning streak of at least 10 games during a season and actually miss the playoffs. So you have to like that if you are an Islanders fan.

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.

Islanders lock down Sabres for ninth straight win

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You could say that the New York Islanders can’t be stopped. Maybe it’s more appropriate to say that their goalies can’t stop making stops.

Either way, a back-to-back set didn’t end the Islanders’ astounding winning streak, as they blanked the Buffalo Sabres 1-0 on Saturday, pushing their run to nine consecutive victories. In this case, Semyon Varlamov got his first shutout with the Islanders, making 27 saves, while the game’s only goal was a funky one for Derick Brassard.

Some might point to that Brassard goal as a fitting example of the bounces going the Islanders’ way, but they’re earning their wins. If you were looking for a thrillride, the Islanders and Sabres combining for only one goal as both teams closed up back-to-backs probably wouldn’t be your tonic. If you love scrappy, double-your-ice-pack affairs, this was it. The Islanders’ number of blocked shots (14) wasn’t that far behind their total shots on goal (21).

These nine wins in a row tie the second-best mark in franchise history, but as NHL PR notes, the Islanders have a big mountain to climb if they want to tie or exceed the best-ever mark. Back in 1982, the Islanders rattled off 15 consecutive wins.

The Islanders do play their next four games at home, so that might help them at least break that tie with the 1989-90 team that also rattled off nine straight wins.

Again, there is a “something has to give” element that begs at least some mention. The Islanders now have averaged less than two goals allowed during this run, as they’ve only yielded 16 goals in nine wins. As great as that Trotz system is, you have to assume that one of Varlamov or Thomas Greiss might have an off night. Even in the comforting embrace of that protective defensive shell.

I mean … right? It’s a long season.

Those thoughts should not take away from the ridiculous job Trotz and the rest of this team is doing. Beyond this winning streak, they’ve shown that they’re a tough out during the games that are supposed be a squad’s biggest challenges:

That sort of hardiness could really come in handy during the playoffs, when goals and space — and penalties — become that much tougher to find.

You could say that this Islanders team is already in postseason form. Whatever way you slice it, they remain the hottest team in the NHL.

MORE:
• Your 2019-20 NHL on NBC TV schedule

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.

Lightning can’t stop Islanders, the NHL’s hottest team

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The New York Islanders are just about undeniably the hottest team in the NHL right now, so it’s fitting that they took care of business against the team that rampaged through the 2018-19 regular season.

The Islanders beat the Tampa Bay Lightning by a score of 5-2 on Friday night, extending the Isles’ 2019-20 season-best winning streak to a remarkable eight games. The Isles are already in spitting distance of last season’s best run, when the St. Louis Blues rattled off 11 consecutive wins.

If you look at certain raw stats, you might believe that the Islanders simply got lucky.

The Lightning managed a significant 35-26 shots on goal advantage, and also carried things from a Corsi/Fenwick/etc. perspective.

Yet, as you might deduce from this in-depth look at the Islanders’ streak when it was seven-games long last weekend, things seem to be going by Barry Trotz’s design. Consider that, while the Islanders didn’t own all of the possession metrics against the Lightning, the Isles did manage a substantial 9-5 edge in high-danger chances at five-on-five, according to Natural Stat Trick.

The Islanders also employ Mathew Barzal, who can do things like this on his way to scoring a goal and an assist against the Bolts:

This Islanders team isn’t just relying on Barzal, mind you, as lead-by-example captain Anders Lee led the team in scoring with three points on a goal and two assists.

While Trotz’s system will earn deserved plaudits, Thomas Greiss‘ continued brilliance shouldn’t be lost in the shuffle. He’s now on a personal four-game winning streak after stopping 33 out of 35 Lightning shots, and the 33-year-old has allowed only eight goals total during that span. Greiss was almost as fantastic as Robin Lehner last season, sporting a .927 save percentage over 43 games. So far, he’s off to an even better start.

There’s a broken record aspect to this, but you have to think that, at some point, the Islanders won’t continue to enjoy this borderline interstellar goaltending on such a regular basis, even behind Trotz’s comfy-blanket system. Then again, the longer this goes on, the harder it gets to make that argument.

If nothing else, the Islanders are providing themselves some room to slip ever so slightly. Yes, we saw the Buffalo Sabres squander a big winning streak last season by missing the playoffs – badly – so it’s important to remember that this is a marathon, rather than a sprint. That said, many other NHL teams are eating the Islanders’ dust, and with a four-game homestand looming after the Islanders visit the Sabres in Buffalo on Saturday, the Isles might get off to an even bigger head start through the middle of the month.

MORE:
• Pro Hockey Talk’s Stanley Cup picks.
• Your 2019-20 NHL on NBC TV schedule

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.

Rask, Rinne, Fleury are NHL’s hottest goalies so far

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With every team except the New Jersey Devils at 10 games played or more – New Jersey’s played nine – this seems like a good time to check in on the most important (yet also most unpredictable) position in hockey: goalies.

These netminders are off to the hottest starts so far in the young 2019-20 season.

Tuukka Rask

If forced to name a top goalie so far, I’d lean toward the Boston Bruins veteran.

Rask is 6-0-1 so far, with a league-leading .951 save percentage.

The 32-year-old sparkles in deeper categories, too. Rask ranks third in even-strength save percentage at .961. According to Hockey Reference’s Goals Saved Against Average (GSAA) – a metric that attempts to account for the difficulty of shots a goalie faces – Rask leads all goaltenders by a healthy margin with 8.69 GSAA.

Every single one of his starts has been considered a “quality start.”

Pekka Rinne

Big-time Finns are off to great starts.

Rinne is tied with Penguins backup Tristan Jarry for the league’s best even-strength save percentage at .964, and Rinne’s off to a great start in the standings, going 7-0-1. Rask and Rinne are in a four-way tie for first place in shutouts with two alongside Carter Hutton and Petr Mrazek.

Rinne’s 6.53 GSAA ranks third. There was a time when people chalked up some of Rinne’s success to the team in front of him, and a brief period (especially 2015-16) when Rinne struggled by any measure. That’s looking more like a blip in an increasingly brilliant career.

Darcy Kuemper

I must admit, I wondered if the Coyotes were being hasty in extending Kuemper, as great as he was basically since the calendar hit 2019. Instead, GM John Chayka’s proactiveness might pay off big time, as Kuemper’s carried over that great finish from 2018-19 to 2019-20 so far.

If Arizona can give Kuemper more consistent goal support (5-3-0), he might get the sort of wins that Vezina-voting GMs gravitate to. Otherwise, he checks out with a .933 save percentage and 5.62 GSAA.

Marc-Andre Fleury

At some point, it feels like the Golden Knights are going to overwork their workhorse. The 34-year-old remains sturdy and often spectacular right now, though.

His eight wins (8-3-0) lead the NHL at the moment, and his 334 saves top all as well (though John Gibson‘s generally being asked to do even more in Anaheim, which is sadly not much of a surprise). Fleury’s .928 save percentage might not be outright spectacular compared to the best on this list, but his second-ranked 7.14 GSAA helps illustrate just how much Vegas depends upon “The Flower.”

Lightning round

  • Robin Lehner: The Blackhawks have fond memories of Corey Crawford (.888 save percentage), but might want to ride the hot hand in Lehner, who has a .936 save percentage through six games. There are signs that Lehner might be able to bail out a shaky Blackhawks defense, considering a high GSAA.
  • When you consider how well Pittsburgh’s played despite injuries that are finally healing up, give Sidney Crosby a lot of credit. Don’t sleep on Jarry and Matt Murray, though, as they have put together great stats early on.
  • The Canucks renaissance is based on a hot top line, but also Jacob Markstrom and Thatcher Demko, with Demko maybe arguing for a bigger slice of the starts with a .941 save percentage. Both have been lights out, though.
  • Connor Hellebuyck: For all the doom and gloom for Winnipeg, the Jets would be in bigger trouble without a so-far redemptive season for Hellebuyck, who has a .924 save percentage and has generally saved their bacon.
  • Linus Ullmark and Carter Hutton have both been fantastic for the Sabres, ranking alongside each other at seventh and eighth in GSAA, and each have the requisite strong vanilla save percentages.
  • By John Gibson standards, a .920 save percentage is pedestrian, but again, the Ducks are asking him to work miracles. He’s pulling off magic, at minimum.
  • Last season, Thomas Greiss was almost as great as Lehner. So far in 2019-20, Greiss is … almost as great as Lehner (.931 save percentage, 4.02 GSAA).
  • To round out this post, Philipp Grubauer and Mikko Koskinen have had the occasional off start, but have mostly been strong for the Avs and Oilers respectively.

When you consider how many of these goalies are on teams that are mysteriously red-hot, maybe those torrid runs aren’t such a mystery. The bigger mystery is: how many of them can keep at least most of this up?

MORE:
• Pro Hockey Talk’s Stanley Cup picks.
• Your 2019-20 NHL on NBC TV schedule

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.