Philadelphia Flyers goalie Steve Mason made a save on Kyle Okposo in the shootout on Monday night, which is notable for two reasons: That it was Okposo’s first unsuccessful attempt in five tries, and that it was only the second time this season that an opposing goalie has stopped the puck against the Islanders in the shootout.
The Islanders moved to 5-0 in the skills competition with their 1-0 win over the Flyers, the first team in the NHL this season to get to five victories. While it’s not the sole reason they’re tied with the Pittsburgh Penguins atop the Metro Division with 30 points – hello, plus-12 goal differential – it’s hasn’t exactly been a hindrance either.
This is two straight years of strong shootout performances for the Islanders. They were 9-6 last season, scoring 23 goals, good for second in the league. This season they’ve converted 10 of 16 chances; four of the misses went wide, while only two were saved.
“Anytime in a shootout when you can make a stop and the guys score goals, it can help,” said Halak last night, wearing his Capt. Obvious cape.
Halak’s addition in the offseason has improved the Islanders in many areas, and the shootout is one of them. He’s stopped eight of 10 shots thus far; last season with the Blues, he stopped 15 of 21. He’s pretty good.
But he’s only accounted for three of the wins. Backup Chad Johnson? He’s stopped four of five attempts. They both have .800 save percentages in an event that usually does the goalies no favors.
Of course, it helps when your shooters are Okposo and Frans Nielsen.
Okposo is now six of eight in the last two seasons. Nielsen, always a shootout ace during his tenure on the Island, is 12 of his last 20 and 4-of-5 this season. John Tavares, who was terrible last season in missing eight of nine attempts, is 2-for-4. The Islanders have scored on their first attempt in four of the five wins; Tavares successfully led off in two of those, including his goal against Mason.
What’s scary about the Islanders is that they’re doing this with a three-man show. But they have Brock Nelson too, who is three of his last five; and Ryan Strome, who’s too talented not to figure this shootout thing eventually.
The shootout is fickle. It could turn on the Islanders eventually, but they’re won eight of their last 10 going back to last season. Every point matters in the East and the shootout can sink you fast – hello, 2013-14 New Jersey Devils.
So far, the skills competition has been the wind at their sails.