The New York Islanders were definitely sellers at the trade deadline last season, but this season they surprised everyone. They have one of the best offenses in the league and are battling for one of the top spots in the Eastern Conference. The one thing that has been keeping them from dominating the conference has been their goaltending. While their starting goaltending has been good enough to win the majority of their games, the backup goaltending has been a disappointment, but the Islanders saw to that at the trade deadline.
The backup goalie position isn’t one that most teams worry about and rarely does it factor into a postseason series. Most teams would give anything to have that be the weakest point on the team. What people often forget about this position is that without a good one, the starting goalie gets taxed and the play can suffer. The Islanders had this problem but they acquired a good upgrade in Michal Neuvirth from the Buffalo Sabres.
Neuvirth is familiar with the Metropolitan Division, spending the past couple of seasons with the Washington Capitals. In his time with the Caps, Neuvirth had a 59-41-3 record as a backup in five seasons. Even when he was traded to the lowly Buffalo Sabres, his goals per game average and his save percentage remained in the same range. His record has diminished, but that is due to the Sabres inability to score goals as they are the only team in the league averaging less than two goals a game. In 27 contests this season, Neuvirth has a save percentage of .919%, which is much better than what they had before this.
A good backup goalie is going to be crucial as the Islanders have some endurance questions with their starter. This isn’t to say that Jaroslav Halak can’t make it through a complete season, but he has only played more than 50 goals once and that was in 2010-11 with the St. Louis Blues. In that season, Halak had one of his worst statistical games as he went 27-21-7 with a GAA of 2.48 and a save percentage of .910%. This season, Halak has already played 48 games. New York has a couple of easier games coming up in the Florida Panthers and the Toronto Maple Leafs, so look for the Islanders to begin resting Halak. They are going to need him as fresh as possible for the playoffs.
The former backup goalie, Chad Johnson was signed this offseason and it seemed like it would be a good deal. He was coming off of a great campaign with the Boston Bruins and the Islanders signed him to a cheap deal. The problem was that Johnson couldn’t replicate the same success he did in Boston as he went 8-8-1 with a 3.08 GAA and .889 save percentage. That is almost half of the team’s losses and he has played about a quarter of the games. New York had to be thrilled that they were able to get a goalie like Neuvirth for their failing backup and a third round draft pick.
The Islanders didn’t need to make too many moves at the trade deadline, but the ones they did should be able to help them compete down the stretch. The other move they made for Tyler Kennedy is a little worrisome as he went back to New York to visit the team’s doctors. Once the Islanders get Kyle Okposo back from injury, they will have deep lines.
New York should be in contention for the top speed in the Metropolitan Division and the move to pick up Neuvirth should help them do that. Entering into their game with the Nashville Predators, the Islanders were tied with the New York Rangers at the top of the division. The problem is that no matter what the outcome of this game is, the Islanders have played three more games than the Rangers. In the conference standings, the Islanders entered the night two points behind the Montreal Canadiens but they have played two more games than the Habs. Every game is going to count for the Islanders down the stretch, but now that they have a solid backup goalie, they should be able to end the season stronger.
Statistics accurate through games played on March 5.