In a handful of games this season, the New York Islanders have looked like a playoff team. The top line of a talented offense features gifted scorers John Tavares, Matt Moulson and Brad Boyes, and one some nights goaltender Evgeni Nabokov looks like a top NHL netminder. The overall problem for the Islanders is that the only way they’ve been winning games is by flat-out outscoring their opponents. A shaky defense and more bad nights than good from Nabokov have required a huge contribution on the offensive end if the Islanders want a chance to win.
The Islanders currently sit three points out of the playoff picture and in 11th place. Their -15 goal differential finds them tied with the Buffalo Sabres and Winnipeg Jets for second-worst in the league, with only the Florida Panthers (-34) struggling more. The Islanders offense ranks 10th in the league in goals per game, and they have the sixth-best power play. Their goals against is currently the second-worst in the league, and shows how their goaltenders have struggled this season.
Nabokov is 13-10-3 with a 2.94 goals-against average that is on pace to become a career-worst mark, and a .899 save percentage. He has only finished one season with a sub -.900 mark in that category (2005-06 with the San Jose Sharks), and that just isn’t going to cut it if the Islanders want to reach the playoffs this year. He has only faced 35 shots or more six times this season, and ironically enough the Islanders have at least a point from each of those games. Former top draft pick Rick DiPietro struggled early on and was waived and sent to the AHL, and Kevin Poulin hasn’t fared any better than Nabokov in limited action. It was Poulin between the pipes for Thursday’s loss to the Montreal Canadiens, and the youngster struggled mightily while surrendering five goals on 29 shots.
The Islanders have the offensive talent to make a run at the postseason, but have to find a way to limit the number of goals going in to their own net. Every goaltender with the team has struggled, and if Nabokov can’t find a way to return to form soon, the Islanders will continue to drop in the standings.