This season the New York Islanders have relied heavily on the men between the pipes. As the playoffs approach the question remains, which Islander netminder will Coach Barry Trotz elect to go with? Both have deserved the chance which makes this one of the hardest decision for the veteran head coach.
After a weak first month of the season, Lehner has revitalized his career. He has proven that he is a capable number one goalie and that he is elite when healthy, mentally and physically. His save percentage and goals against average rank third in the league at .928 and 2.18 respectively. In 45 games this season he has a 24-13-5 record and five shutouts under his belt. The Swedish netminder was red hot from November until suffered an upper-body injury in early March. During that time every outing was exceptional, hence his stellar statistics. There have been some weak goals entering the net early in games since he has returned from the injury and with only a handful of opportunities to improve, Lehner will need to be set and ready once the puck drops to be successful in the playoffs.
Lehner has not been given the opportunity against the top teams in the division this season. He is 1-0-1 against the Pittsburgh Penguins with a 1.5 goals against average. He has not played against the Carolina Hurricanes, Columbus Blue Jackets, Montreal Canadiens, or Washington Capitals this season. He got a glimpse of the Habs, coming in to relieve Greiss and stopping all 13 shots that came his way. Against the Tampa Bay Lightning Lehner gave up three goals in a 4-2 loss. Lehner was in net when the Islanders rallied to beat the Winnipeg Jets in a 5-4 comeback victory, which was likely the most important win of the season for this team.
The 2017-2018 season had given some people doubts about Greiss’ ability to play consistently at the NHL level. However, this year he has figured it out. Just like Lehner, he too may have revitalized his career, posting exceptional numbers all season long. In 42 games, Greiss has posted a 22-14-2 record with a .926 save percentage and a 2.32 goals against average, which ranks fifth in both categories in the entire National Hockey League. In his last five games, Greiss is 2-3, with a .916 save percentage and a 2.4 goals against average. He was named NHL’s First star of the week recently, giving him some much-deserved recognition.
Unlike Lehner, Greiss has been given the nod against potential playoff opponents from the Metropolitan Division. Here are his numbers against these top teams:
PIT 1-1-0 2.66 GAA
CAR 3-1-0 1.75 GAA
CBJ 3-1-0 1.25 GAA
WSH 1-2 1.67 GAA
MTL 1-1-1 2.66 GAA
TBL 1-0-1 .5 GAA.
As of right now, the Islanders would play the Pittsburgh Penguins, but with how tight the race in the division is the Islanders could end up facing any of these teams. This is where Greiss may have an advantage since he has shown more control at times in the crease when compared to Lehner.
WHO TO PICK
Despite the better numbers by a slim margin, Greiss has played more against opponents that the Islanders are likely to face in the playoffs. This season the two netminders have been the best duo in the league and also combine for the most shutouts in the league at 10. Out of the two goaltenders, Lehner seems to play more consecutive games this season, while Greiss usually does not, except when Lehner was out hurt. Greiss as a “back up” is used to the days off between starts, which has lead to success. Lehner is used to being the number one, and is probably more comfortable and confident when he gets the nod night after night.
Trotz has chosen the matchups and has split the two goaltenders evenly throughout the season. Could he do that in the playoffs for each game and or round? Goalies like to get into a rhythm so even though that is not the conventional way to handle this, it is an option. It is hard for him to ride the hottest goalie when there is only a few games left to decide.
With similar statistics, no goalie has been able to run away with the starting job, as they have practically matched one other. Regardless of who gets the start, the Islanders should be confident in either choice. Both have played an integral part in the team’s success this season and will look to continue to do so once the regular season comes to an end.