Thomas Greiss

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

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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?

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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

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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.

PHT Morning Skate: Winter Classic prep; Binnington the real deal

Welcome to the PHT Morning Skate, a collection of links from around the hockey world. Have a link you want to submit? Email us at phtblog@nbcsports.com.

• A trip to the 2018 Red River Shootout secured the Cotton Bowl’s place as an NHL Winter Classic location. [NHL.com]

• Could a Winter Classic win be the spark that helps the Predators? [Tennessean]

• “Winter Classic will include jugglers, a sword swallower, a fire breather and a rodeo show, plus special appearances by Troy Aikman and Ricky Williams” Dallas Morning News]

• Why Jordan Binnington is no fluke and is the real deal. [St. Louis Gametime]

• Jets GM Kevin Cheveldayoff on the latest in the Dustin Byfuglien situation. [Illegal Curve]

• J.G. Pageau and Zack Kassian are two players who are trade deadline candidates but who also could help their teams make a second half playoff push. [TSN]

• The Sharks are facing a brutal January schedule as they look to make a second-half push. [NBC Sports Bay Area]

Thomas Greiss has been struggling in December. [Islanders Insight]

• Sheldon Keefe is instilling a balanced offensive and defensive approach with the Maple Leafs. [Sporting News]

• “Concussions dominated the 2010s, but the NHL is still fighting its demons” [The Score]

• A look at the worst draft busts of the past decade. [The Hockey News]

• Claude Julien believes winning hockey for the Canadiens means getting back to boring hockey. [Montreal Gazette]

• Finally, here’s the time-lapse video of how the NHL made a hockey rink inside Cotton Bowl Stadium:

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Sean Leahy is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @Sean_Leahy.

Varlamov steady in Islanders’ bounce-back win

Mathew Barzal of the New York Islanders
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After an 8-3 defeat against the Nashville Predators earlier this week, questions about the New York Islanders being an elite team in the Eastern Conference began to arise.

With a 3-2 shootout win on the road against the Atlantic Division-leading Boston Bruins, the Islanders answered the naysayers.

Semyon Varlamov made 27 saves and stopped two of three shooters in the shootout in his 12th win of the season. Mathew Barzal and Jordan Eberle both scored in the skills competition as the Islanders snapped a seven-game winless streak against the Bruins.

Varlamov showing his worth

The Russian netminder made his best save of the night late in the second period when he robbed Anders Bjork with his glove. Bruins defenseman Charlie McAvoy circled the net before sending a cross-ice pass to Bjork but Varlamov stretched out and snagged the puck to keep the game tied at the time.

When Lou Lamoriello signed Varlamov this summer to replace Robin Lehner, the move was far from universally praised. But the Islanders front office has proven their ability to identify talent in between the pipes.

If Varlamov continues to trend in the right direction, would Lamoriello consider moving Thomas Greiss at the trade deadline in order to collect a few additional assets? Goaltending has been a strength for the Islanders since Barry Trotz and his lieutenants have arrived, but is subtracting Greiss from the roster a smart gamble?

Pastrnak’s filthy move

When your team loses in a shootout, incredible dekes are often forgotten.

But, David Pastrnak‘s slick move in the second round is worth remembering. The NHL-leading goal scorer slid from his backhand to his forehand before Varlamov could even react.

The goal won’t count toward his total, and the Bruins will leave with only one point, but the shootout gave Pastrnak another forum to display his impressive skills, and the forward took full advantage.

Does Rask have a flaw in the shootout?

Both Eberle and Barzal converted their shootout attempts with wrist shots instead of attempting a deke.

Eberle skated in on the left side of the ice and fired a wrist shot past Tuukka Rask’s blocker, while Barzal flew down the middle of the ice before slowing and eventually wiring a wrist shot over the glove.

Do the Islanders know something about Rask that the NHL has not figured out?

It certainly could have been a coincidence, but will be interesting to see if other players opt for the same strategy against Rask in his next shootout appearance.