The Goaltending Carousel Continues
This past week the Islanders have recalled goalie Anders Nilsson from Bridgeport and sent backup Kevin Poulin back down to the AHL for assignment. The goaltending situation has been far from reliable ever since Dwayne Roloson was an Islander. Even at the point, the team was not yet in a position to compete to the point itself was somewhat moot. Sure Evgeni Nabokov has shown instances of brilliance, but consistency has been an issue for him and he tends to show his age far more than Roloson ever did. In response, the Islanders have drafted a trio of goaltenders that they have been grooming, but none of the group have stood out enough to be relied on as the definitive back up let alone future starter.
Putting aside the obvious need to acquire an NHL level goalie either through trade or free agency, nothing has come of their attempts to develop one of their own. The first goalie to get a shot was Finnish netminder Mikko Koskinen. The Islanders drafted Koskinen in the 2nd round, 31st overall in the 2009 draft. Koskinen ended up playing 4 games with the Islanders during the 2010-2011 season posting a 2-1-0 record with a .873 save percentage. The numbers themselves werent that bad but at the conclusion of the season he was leant to KaPal of the SM-Liga in Finland. He has been playing in Europe ever since and is playing fairly well. He is currently with Novosibirsk Sibir of the KHL and is boasting a 19-11-0 record with a .941 save percentage. He seems to still have the potential but is the odd man out behind Nilsson and Poulin.
The next goalie given a shot was and until now has been Poulin. Poulin has always been seen to have the most upside. The Montreal native was drafted in the 5th round, 126th overall in the 2008 draft. He boasts a more athletic style and has game changing potential, yet this style of play leaves him out of position more than desired. A knee injury during the 2011-2012 season set Poulin back a bit in his development but he was ultimately given the teams back up role this year. His play has been streaky this season posting an 11-16-1 record with a .871 save percentage. There is a lot to be said of the poor defense the Islanders have had this year but excuses cannot be made because of that. Goaltenders are expected to be able to steal games here and there regardless of the team playing in front of them. For example look at how Jhonas Enroth has played with Ryan Miller being dealt and a glorified AHL team rostered in Buffalo. The point being is that even with glimpses of stellar play, the Islanders organization does not have its faith 100% behind Poulin.
Lastly there is Anders Nilsson. The 6'5" Swedish goaltender is another Isles draft product who was selected in the 3rd round, 62nd overall in the 2009 draft, the same year as Koskinen. Nilsson has been dealt a poor hand in my honest opinion. Nilsson posses sound fundamentals for a goalie and seems to positionally be in the right place the majority of the time. The chances he has gotten have been just poor luck. He was on the business end of Sidney Crosby's return from concussion issues in the 2011-2012 season and his inexperience was exposed by Crosby himself. This year he was the goalie posterized in Anaheim by Corey Perry's from-the-knees goal that will likely be a finalist for goal of the year. In 8 games with the Islanders this season, he has a 1-3-2 record with a .878 save percentage. Again, these are not numbers that would wow anyone, but it is my belief that Nilsson is a far better goaltender than his numbers reflect. In addition to the normal growing pains of a developing goalie, it was found that Nilsson had been playing with an illness that caused him to be fatigued more than normal. All things considered he seems to have had the cards stacked against him.
With the recent pormotion of Nilsson and subsequent demotion of Poulin there are many ways to interpret this situation. One is to think of it as getting Poulin more playing time with Bridgeport, however since the demotion he is 0-2. Another is that Bridgeport has been arguably the hottest team in the AHL of late due largely in part to the play of Nilsson. Even though this roster move may be primarily to get Poulin more game action, Nilsson's promotion was certainly deserving as well.
Resolution to the Islanders perennial goaltending issues still seems to be far from over because unfortunately none of the previously mentioned trio has made a name for themselves, but for Nilsson at least this could be his last chance to make a case for himself. Personally, I am pulling for him to succeed. Not just because of the obvious reason that his success will coincide with the Islanders success, but because it is always a feel good story when home grown talent lives up to their potential.