Entering the season I was skeptical whether the New York Islanders would be able to gain enough points to stay in the playoff picture, let alone compete for a top-3 spot in the Metro Divison. Yet after 45 games this feisty New York team is not only competing for a top-3 spot in the Metro; they are within arm’s reach of the top of the division, relative to NHL-.500:
13 CBJ, WSH
What is more, this under-the-radar team has been the most successful of the five Metro playoff contenders since Devon Toews entered the lineup Dec. 23, in terms of both record and 5v5 adjusted expected goals share:
9-2-0 NYI (56.4%)
8-3-0 CBJ (53.1%)
8-4-0 CAR (51.3%)
7-3-0 PIT (52.2%)
5-4-2 WSH (45.6%)
The Role of the Goaltenders
A large part of the Isles’ success is due to surprisingly good performances by Robin Lehner and Thomas Greiss.
Lehner appeared to be the Isles’ third or fourth choice for starting goalie for this season— after attempts to acquire Philipp Grubauer and Carter Hutton failed— while Greiss’s 2017-18 campaign can only be described as a disaster, as he finished .906 for 5v5 save percentage.
This season, however, Greiss is a solid .932 at 5v5. His adjusted 5v5 save percentage (1.09) only trails three East goalies with 1000+ minutes of 5v5 action this season: Jaroslav Halak of Boston (1.25), Jimmy Howard of Detroit (1.39), and teammate Robin Lehner (1.46).
In other words, when considering expected goals at 5v5 due to shot volume and quality, Lehner has overachieved the most of East goalies, while Greiss has also been one of the better puck-stoppers in the conference, as this chart comparing expected to actual 5v5 goals-against rate depicts:
If the Islanders’ power play has cost the team 7-10 points in the standings, Lehner and Greiss have just about made up for it, with their strong play, particularly at 5v5. (Lehner has solid 4v5 stats, while Greiss is close to the middle of NHL goalies.)
Can Lehner and Greiss maintain this level of play the rest of the season? If they slip up some, can the Isles as a team help to make up the difference, whether with exceptional 5v5 play (as they have shown since adding Toews to the lineup) or an improved power play?
If the answer to either of those questions is “yes,” this Trotz-run Islanders team may not need a wildcard spot to qualify for the 2019 NHL playoffs.
If the goaltending remains impressive while overall 5v5 or 5v4 improvement provides a boost, winning the division may prove more than a mere pipe dream for a team predicted by many to finish 7th or 8th in the Metro.
All stats via offsidereview unless otherwise noted. As of Wednesday morning, Jan. 16.