At long last, the NHL playoffs are here. Today, we begin a 3 part series to take a look at the Penguins/Islanders first round matchup. You can read Part 1 here and you can read Part 2 here. This is Know Your Enemy Part 3.
Finally, we wrap up our 3 part series as we move down the lineup to take a look at the goaltenders for the Islanders and Penguins.
This is where things get interesting.
Because for as good as the Islanders are at limiting opportunities against and for as good as the Penguins are at generating opportunities, kingdoms rise and fall and series are won and lost with goaltending.
And for these two kingdoms, goaltending was nothing short of stellar this season, despite taking very different paths to get there.
Here, we see at a high level what Matt Murray, Robin Lehner, and Thomas Greiss did this season in their 50, 43, and 39 starts respectively.
This bird’s eye view gives us a decent sense as to how they all performed. In a few more starts, Murray ended up with a few more wins. His overall save percentage of .919 was impacted by his tumultuous opening 11 games, but down the stretch, he was great (more on that in a bit). There wasn’t too much difference between the three in 5v5 SV% this season, with Greiss having the slight edge in 5-on-5 high danger save percentage. Give Murr the edge in 5v5 goals saved above average, but, via Sean Tierney’s Goals Saved Above Expectation, Lehner and Greiss have firm control over the entire league.
But perhaps nothing illustrates just how tight this matchup will be in net than Sean’s Performance vs. Expectation chart, showing how the goalies are performing relative to their workloads.
Note: Poor John Gibson up in that top right corner. Someone please get that kid a real team so he can get the workload Jordan Binnington got (bottom right).
Here, you can see all 3 goaltenders in this series got good results this season, with Lehner getting a bit of an easier workload while Murray and Greiss teetered on the edge of easy and hard work.
With that, let’s take a closer look at what each did this season.
Lehner and Greiss
If I were a betting man, I’d put money on Robin Lehner leading the Islanders out on Wednesday night at the Coliseum, primarily because of his level of play as the season came to an end, as you’ll see in a minute on the goals saved vs. expected goals trend for each player below.
But this season for the Islanders has unquestionably been a goaltending-by-committee showcase en route to the duo winning the William M. Jennings Trophy for fewest goals allowed this season.
For Lehner, a career .918 SV% goaltender, it was a welcome sight in his first year on Long Island. His first two seasons in Buffalo in 2015-16 and 2016-17 saw him start 21 and 58 games respectively, going 5-9-5 in 15-16 with a .924 SV% and 1 shutout and going 23-26-8 in 16-17 with a .920 SV%. Considering how bad those Sabres teams were, that’s a pretty damn impressive feat.
Last season was a different story though. After dealing with and opening up about some mental health issues, Lehner fell way short of his previous seasons, going 14-26-9 with a .908 SV% in 50 starts.
But that all changed this season as he went 25-13-5 in his 43 starts with 6 shutouts and a .930 SV%, the 2nd best SV% of all goaltenders that played 25+ games this season.
Greiss, on the other hand, was a bit better than his normal, steady .915 self this year, going 23-14-2 with 5 shutouts and a .927 SV% in 43 starts. That .927 was tied for 4th best among that same set of goaltenders that played 25+ games.
You would expect that these two guys had career years at 5-on-5, too, given the Islanders ability to suppress opportunities against and that is precisely what we see. First, the density of shots they faced, via Sean Tierney:
Remember above how Thomas Greiss had a bit of a heavier workload than Lehner? Well, that’s what that darker area in front of him shows here. But as the season wore down, so too did his goals saved versus expectation.
But let’s take a look at how they stacked up against the rest of the league’s goaltenders at 5-on-5.
(Stats below via Natural Stat Trick. Rank is out of 61 goaltenders that played 800+ minutes at 5v5.)
|16th||.846||High Danger Save Percentage||.868||5th|
|Tied- 6th||0.46||Goals Saved Above Average Per Hour||0.58||2nd|
|24th fewest||2.24||Expected Goals Against Per Hour||2.25||25th fewest|
|14th fewest||2.91||Rebound Shots Against Per Hour||3.18||27th fewest|
There’s not a whole lot of difference between the two netminders here. Greiss with the slight edge in both SV% and HDSV% (he also saw 0.35 more HD shots against per hour than Lehner, as we saw in the density chart), yet the both saw a similar amount of expected goals against per hour. Greiss was a bit better in that sense, but Lehner had the much better rebound control and help in front of him with those rebounds.
What ride Matt Murray’s season was.
From the start of the season until he went down with his month-long injury on November 18th, Murray found himself ranked 60th in save percentage at all strengths out of 70 goaltenders with an .877 through his first 11 games. That is objectively bad, but a number of factors went into it, including the Penguins play in front of him and his inability to stop more than 75% of the high danger shots he faced.
By the time he had started his 19th game of the season after coming back from his stint on IR, things were vastly different in both his play and the play of the team in front of him, bringing him back to a more respectable level of high danger shots.
Over the next two months following his return, Murray was playing at nothing short of elite levels, eventually regaining the form we saw in the Cup runs of 2016 and 2017, as seen below with his rolling 5 game average save percentages at 5v5 (top) and overall (bottom).
What’s more is that in spite of that rough start, Murray found himself in the top 10 this season in overall SV% among goaltenders that played 25+ games, having never really looked back after returning from injury in December. In fact, since December 15th, his .930 overall save percentage ranks 5th among 42 goalies that played 20+ games (with Lehner’s .937 and Greiss’ .933 ranking 2nd and 3rd) and his .943 SV% at 5v5 over that same period was the 3rd best among 65 goalies that played 300+ minutes (Greiss – .945 ranked 2nd and Lehner’s .941 ranked 5th among that set).
For the full season, here’s how Murray ranked at 5v5 among the same 61 goaltenders that played 800+ minutes at 5v5 this year.
|High Danger Save Percentage||.844||19th|
|Goals Saved Above Average Per Hour||0.46||Tied- 6th|
|Expected Goals Against Per Hour||2.41||17th most|
|Rebound Shots Against Per Hour||3.48||38th fewest|
There were obviously some roadbumps along the way, but he hasn’t really looked back since March 1st either as the postseason began approaching and HCMS started to rely on him much, much more. In fact, Murray was called upon to start in 20 of the remaining 21 games, including the final 11. The result: an 11-4-5 record where he recorded the 2nd most wins, a .928 SV% at all strengths and a .950 SV% at 5v5.
And with Matt Murray playing at the top of his game, the Penguins have a really good chance at making a deep run.
Advantage: Coin flip
Like I said on Monday: Pens in 6.
Bury them. Go Pens.