Isles Evaluations: Between The Pipes

How many goaltenders will we see in an Isles uniform by the end of the season? That was a question that a few of my readers asked me before the start of the year. Last year the Islanders featured Dwayne Roloson, Rick DiPietro, Kevin Poulin, Mikko Koskinen, Al Montoya and Nathan Lawson. And oh yeah, they also tried to claim Evgeni Nabokov off waivers to only say, "No thanks" before joining the roster this year. (Photo Credit: RagingMike/Flickr)

That's a total of six goalies (with a 7th one that rang off the post) that dressed for the New York Islanders in 2011. The count now is at five for this year between DiPietro, Montoya, Nabokov, Poulin and Anders Nilsson, who earned his first NHL start against the Pittsburgh Penguins the day that Sidney Crosby returned to action. 

Koskinen has been playing for KalPa in the Finnish Elite League as John Link explains to us in his latest prospect report since there has been a crowd in the crease for the Bridgeport Sound Tigers. Both Poulin and Nilsson had been playing so well that there was simply not enough room for Koskinen, choosing him to opt for overseas play.

However, Poulin has been recalled again as of today at a time where it almost doesn't seem to make sense. Both Montoya and Nabokov are apparently healthy unless there is something bothering one of the two goalies that hasn't been announced yet. Or could GM Garth Snow be preparing to move one of the two goalies who are both on one-year contracts? Things could be starting to get a little interesting.

But until all of that unravels, let's take a look at the three goalies who have dressed the most for the New York Islanders this season to wrap up our Islanders mid-season evaluations.

Rick DiPietro has been shut down for the rest of the season for the second time in three years. He only dressed for eight games and put up numbers of a third string goalie with a 3-2-3 record allowing 22 goals on 177 shots. Those stats combine for a 3.73 GAA and .876 save percentage. Despite being forced to miss out the rest of the year as injuries continue to plague his career and road to recovery, DP has stated that retirement hasn't even crossed his mind. He will continue to play until the doctor tells him that it is physically impossible. But you have to wonder how much more his body can take. More to come on the never ending DiPietro saga later in this post.

Evgeni Nabokov turned into an iron man for the Islanders, dressing for what almost seemed like every game from the end of December to the end of January. He holds a 10-12-0 record but has only allowed 52 goals on 641 shots, supplying a 2.38 GAA  along with a .919 save percentage. Not bad for the 36-year old keeper. Although he has been one of the main reasons the Islanders have managed to win games or steal points out of overtime losses, his age might play a major role in the organization's decision making with him going forward. Throw in the fact that he never wanted to come here in the first place and it suddenly might make more and more sense for Snow to look to trade him. Where the Isles stand in the playoff race by the end of February might dictate whether or not he is dealt at the trade deadline, but the fact that he is showing that he can still compete at his age on a team that has struggled offensively will bode well for Snow if he were to field offers from other clubs. (Photo Credit: Robert Kowal/Flickr)

Al Montoya is a goaltender that has struggled to keep himself in the line-up, but not due to poor play, as a concussion sidelined him for over a month. Although he was the starting goalie on opening night, Montoya quickly found himself as the healthy scratch for a short while once DiPietro's return to action became the team's top priority. The 26-year old has a 6-5-4 record with a 2.54 GAA and a .912 save percentage. Montoya has always been a goalie that seems to perform at his best when he gets a lot of playing time. Being that he is young, talented and hungry to play, there is no reason why the Islanders shouldn't look to utilize him more often as well as re-sign him for next year. It shouldn't be difficult for Snow to get him under contract since he hasn't played that much from the concussion. But who knows? Maybe Snow will see what Montoya's value will be on the trade market. But I am willing to bet that Nabby's playoff experience and veteran presence will be more valuable to a contending club looking for goaltending depth.

With that being said, Al Montoya should be the goalie that the Islanders should turn to going forward until Poulin is ready for a more responsible role in an orange and blue sweater. Perhaps his call up from the AHL is in preparation for that transition in Poulin's development. Only time will tell. But one thing is for certain; as long as the New York Islanders make Rick DiPietro's recovery a top priority, this team will not be successful. Winning hockey teams, developing hockey teams, heck even marginal hockey teams all have stability in net. The Islanders have played their best when the skaters in front of the crease knew who they were playing for between the pipes.

Any hockey player will tell you that they play their game differently depending on who is in the net. Whether they admit it or not, the factors that weigh into a player's style depends on the trust level in the goalie's abilities, as well as knowing how he plays; if he tends to play the puck more or doesn't prefer to handle it much; if he rather you block the shot or rather see it himself without a screen. It all makes a difference. Sending in a rusty and banged up goalie like DiPietro at random parts of the season will not lead to consistent and succesful results on the ice. As someone who has watched DP from the start, I can say that I would love to see him return to his All Star form and be the rock this team knew he could be. But it seems more and more like an unrealistic dream with each passing season.

There was a reason why the Islanders drafted Poulin, Nilsson and Koskinen just a few years ago. The Islanders began preparing for the day that Rick DiPietro's body might give up on him. 

It's very possible that we may start to see the Poulin era begin as early as tomorrow night.

-Rob McGowan

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Ron Guillet's picture

Great article, Rob! Definitely time to put DiPietro behind them and develop a new starter. Bonus is that Nabby should net a good return at the deadline (assuming he's traded)

Erol Bal's picture

I have a feeling that this summer might be the most important summer in the history of the New York Islanders. DP retires and Wang sells the team, I don't see Ricky coming back next year. Depending on the Hub development I think Wang throws in towel as well.

Of course it's all wishful thinking but the Wang era is coming to an end as Nassau does not seem interested in playing ball and without any real estate deal in place, Wang will have no interest in keeping the Islanders.