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Danis vs. MacDonald: Evaluating their peak form

I suspect most Islanders fans would tell you -- certainly coach Scott Gordon would -- that Yann Danis has clearly outplayed Joey MacDonald in their time carrying the load during Rick DiPietro's absence. A look at their season stats backs that up.

2008-09 - MacDonald 44 2538 13 24 6 6 139 3.29 1398 1259 .901 0

2008-09 - Danis 23 1351 9 11 2 1 54 2.40 723 669 .925 2

But while we've seen MacDonald's work spread out all season long -- interrupted by two separate injuries -- Danis' body of work has mostly come during a hot run since he gained Gordon's trust in January.

So is their season's work a fair comparison, then? Danis has appeared in only 23 games; MacDonald, 44. And MacDonald's season included a surprisingly hot November that earned him consideration for the NHL's Player of the Month (and was followed by an awful December).

Perhaps, then, it would be more fair to compare Danis' smaller sample with a similar-sized sample that encompasses MacDonald's big November.

Between the beginning of the season and Dec. 4, when Joey MacDonald made 42 saves in an OT loss to Washington, MacDonald appeard in 22 games, starting all of those except for Oct. 25 vs. Carolina, when an injured DiPietro came out after the first period. MacDonald was also pulled after starting the Nov. 28 blowout at Boston.

Since Dec. 9, Yann Danis has appeared in 22 games, starting all of them except the blowout in Pittsburgh Dec. 11, where he gave up 5 goals in two periods of mop-up duty. So a hot streak, a blowout loss, and 22 games are common in both of these samples:

GP GA SA/GP Saves/GP Save Pct. W L T
Joey MacDonald (Oct. 13-Dec. 4) 22 64 31.5 28.6 .908 10 10 2
Yann Danis (Dec. 11-March 14) 22 49 31.4 29.2 .929 9 11 2

Well, the challenge remains that 22 games is still a small sample by which to judge a goalie -- each of whom had questionable NHL credentials heading into this season. It's tempting to wonder if Danis is aided by the Islanders' improved record of late, as well as by the Islanders' improved defense -- some adjustments made after the much-discussed Gordon conversations with Brendan Witt.

But as the stats above show, both goalies faced a strikingly similar amount of shots per game during these stretches -- just three shots' difference, in fact. Even their win/loss records are similar. Yet MacDonald allowed 15 more goals.

So if Danis is getting some benefit that MacDonald did not, it would have to be in the "quality" of shots faced. But that's a tricky measure, and in this small sample I'm more inclined to trust observation than turn to uncertain data on "how dangerous" the shots faced were. Frankly, I'd be more likely to argue that it is Danis' play that has made the Islanders look better lately, rather than vice versa: A confidence-feedback cycle that begins with solid goaltending and finishes with improved play by the young forwards.

Stats aside, the two differences I observe that separate these two are Danis' superior rebound control, and Danis' ability to stay standing and square to the play amid heavy traffic and/or a barrage of shots. MacDonald, I think, has a greater tendency to sprawl forward and lose his positioning for the rebounds that he seems more prone to give up.

The Islanders have just 12 games left to collect more data. MacDonald, who's been out recently with a knee injury, could be back as soon as this weekend. Whereas in November we thought he was a solid long-term backup candidate for DiPietro, now Danis -- who initially got no love from Gordon -- has changed the picture considerably. I'm open to counterarguments. But if the Islanders had to pick only one of them today, it's pretty clear whose number would be called.