September is upon us, which means the 2015-16 season is just around the corner... and that it's time to take a look, once again, at the best the Metropolitan Division has to offer. First up, the men between the pipes.
Honorable mention: Eddie Lack
10. Thomas Greiss
Last year's rank: HM
Greiss signed as a free agent with the Islanders last year, conceivably to be the backup to Jaroslav Halak. But an injury to Halak in training camp (and then again toward the end of the season) thrust Greiss into the de facto starter's role - and he rose to the occasion, helping the Islanders stay afloat in a tough division and ultimately make it to the second round of the playoffs. At an individual level, Greiss appeared in a career-high 41 games and finished the season with the League's third-best save percentage (minimum 40 games played). Not bad for a guy who has been a career backup.
9. Michal Neuvirth
Last year's rank: 9
Since leaving the Caps, Neuvirth has searched for a starting role that continues to elude him. He has, however, seemingly found himself a home in Philadelphia, where he signed a two-year deal last summer. He played close to half of the 2015-16 season (in between his requisite injuries) and put up some excellent numbers in the process. It was in the playoffs, though, where he stepped up his game, filling in for a stumbling Steve Mason in their first-round matchup against his old team and almost singlehandedly getting the Flyers back in the series. He gave up just two goals on 105 shots, including a 44-save shutout to force Game 6.
8. Jaroslav Halak
Last year's rank: 7
Injuries forced Halak to the sidelines for a good portion of the regular season last year, and caused him to miss his team's entire playoff run; that combined with Greiss's performance in his absence, and the development of goalie prospect JF Berube, has put Halak's future with the Islanders in question. What isn't in question is that he's still capable of being a very solid netminder when healthy, and has been an important part of the Islanders' evolution from also-rans to a consistent playoff team.
7. Matt Murray
Last year's rank: N/A
It's hard to look at Murray's season and not add an asterisk to it due to the small sample size; at the same time it's also hard to dismiss what he did in that small sample size (i.e. help his team win a Stanley Cup as a 22-year-old rookie). When Fleury was forced to sit out with a concussion and backup Jeff Zatkoff proved to be less than impressive in relief, Murray stepped in, took over and never looked back. His regular-season numbers were sparkling, with a .930 save percentage that would be among the League leaders if he had carried it out across more starts. Those numbers actually dipped in the playoffs, as teams started to figure him out a bit, but none of them were able to do so well enough to beat him and because of that he gets to add "Stanley Cup Champion" to his resume.
6. Marc-Andre Fleury
Last year's rank: 6
A lot has been made about whether or not Fleury is a legitimately good goalie or just a mediocre one who has good stretches. If it's the latter, he's in the middle of a pretty lengthy stretch of good, because over the last two seasons he's very quietly put up the best numbers of his career. He added five shutouts and his highest save percentage since 2007-08 before suffering a concussion at the end of March. His injury caused him to miss the final few weeks of the season and the majority of the Pens' Cup run, although he did get into two games in the Eastern Conference Finals, once in relief of Murray and the start that immediately followed (both losses). While he's gotten better over the last few years, it'll be interesting to see what the future holds for him as he inches closer to 32 - especially if Murray can maintain what he started last season.
5. Sergei Bobrovsky
Last year's rank: 4
|2015-16 (Blue Jackets)||37||15||19||1||97||2.75||1049||952||.908||1|
After establishing himself as a top goalie in the League and taking home the Vezina in 2013, Bobrovsky took a bit of a step back in 2015-16. Injuries shortened his season to just 37 games, and his .908 save percentage (a slightly better .916 at even strength) was a significant dropoff from the numbers he'd put up in recent years. Some of that decline was a byproduct of playing for a struggling Blue Jacket team, and he did get stronger as the season went on, which is reason enough to believe that he'll be back to his dominant ways sooner rather than later.
4. Steve Mason
Last year's rank: 5
Like Neuvirth, Mason has been rejuvenated since arriving in Philadelphia (which would seem to go against the usual pattern for that city's goaltenders). While his numbers dipped a bit this season from his career-high .928 save percentage a season ago, he's still got the ability to bail out a Flyers team that seemingly never has a fully competent defense in front of him, and helped the Flyers slip into the playoffs on the second-to-last day of the season. He carried his steady play into Game 1 against the Caps, but it was in Game 2 that things somewhat unraveled when he gave up this goal. The following game he ceded six more (although none as bad as that) and was then replaced by Neuvirth for the duration of the playoffs...but there's no reason to think he's lost the starter's gig permanently, and one would imagine he'll bounce back just fine in 2016-17.
3. Cory Schneider
Last year's rank: 3
Sharing a division with such heavyweights as Holtby and Lundqvist means there may be a tendency at times to overlook Cory Schneider and what he's been able to do over the course of his career - particularly since joining the Devils. But he is very quietly one of the best goalies in the League, and has the numbers to prove it. 2015-16 was more of the same - what he lacked in wins, he made up for in other areas, turning aside pucks at a high rate and often doing so with little run support from the team in front of him. He actually topped both Lundqvist and Holtby in pure save percentage (and trailed Hank by .001 at even strength), but somehow finished sixth (!) in Vezina votes. One wonders what could have been if he played for teams that garnered a bit more attention; as it is, he's one of the best in the business and a close third to...
2. Braden Holtby
Last year's rank: 2
Holtby's first Vezina-winning season was chock full of impressive stats, facts and accolades that all contributed to him taking home that hardware in June. Aside from his record-tying 48-win season, he led the League in games with fewer than two goals given up, appeared in 22 straight games in which his team earned at least one standings point, and trailed only Ben Bishop in games with a save percentage over .900. Holtby was also a huge reason why the Caps rarely lost back-to-back games, and only lost two straight in his own right as the season was winding down.
So why is he second and not first? Well, his numbers took a hit after a forced break for winter weather followed by the All-Star break, and his even-strength save percentage for the season was closer to the middle of the pack at "just" .928. He also struggled a bit in the playoff series against the Penguins (although some of that was likely due to an injury suffered in the first round). Considering he seems to get better every year, though, there's every reason to believe he'll be challenging for that top spot soon enough.
1. Henrik Lundqvist
Last year's rank: 1
Lundqvist's 2015-16 shared some similarities with Holtby, between keeping his team afloat with his stellar play at times (albeit more frequently than Holtby), a few stumbles over the course of the season and sparkling overall numbers. This marked the eighth time in 11 seasons in which he's had at least four shutouts, and the seventh-straight season with a save percentage of at least .920. His save percentage at even strength was even more impressive, jumping up to a Division-leading .934 (tied for third in the League).
He accomplished all of that while seeing more shots and playing more minutes than he had in the four previous seasons. That Lundqvist was able to do that on a less talented team - his two playoff implosions aside - speaks to how good he remains, even with a rough patch here or there. Between that and his complete body of work, it's hard to see him anywhere but atop the heap... for now, at least.