The Islanders Achilles’ heel for the last few seasons has been their goaltending, namely their backup goaltender. Names like Chad Johnson, Kevin Poulin, Anders Nilsson, Mikko Koskinen, Nathan Lawson, Peter Mannino and Yann Denis have made Isles fans cringe.
Last season the team solved their starting goaltender issue with the acquisition of Jaroslav Halak, this past offseason they picked up the other piece. Thomas Greiss has been a revelation this season. General manager Garth Snow signed Greiss to a two-year, $3 million dollar contract. He has been so solid in net that the Isles brass may have a decision on their hands. Can the 30-year-old journeyman, who is on his fourth team in four years become the number one goaltender? Well, yes and no.
Monday’s 4-1 win against the Detroit Red Wings now leaves Greiss in uncharted waters. The game was his 25th of the season and the start, his 20th, both match career highs. Greiss now has 16 wins, three more than Halak in five fewer starts. His GAA and save percentage both place him in the top ten in the league. The skaters do provide Greiss with 3.32 goals per game of support. Monday was the third straight home game where New York got out to a 3-0 lead, Greiss was in net for all three. Over his last eight starts, Greiss has gotten incredible goal support: 4.75 goals per game, including 22 goals in his last four starts alone. He won seven of those eight starts.
Halak has never been a durable goaltender. He already has been on injured reserve twice this season. He did played in a career high 59 games last season, winning 38. Not to mention Halak has struggled in his last ten starts going 3-6-1 with a 3.12 GAA and .896 save percentage. He was pulled in two of those starts. Halak has received 3.38 goals per game over his last 13 starts. In his last five starts, the Islanders have scored 10 goals.
Where Greiss is 6-3-0, with a 2.37 GAA and .925 save percentage in his last ten games. Head coach Jack Capuano could just played the hot hand. New York has just five games left this month with one back-to-back. I would bet Greiss more three of those five. Capuano has alternated starts for Greiss and Halak the past five games and both will get a shot in the Isles’ next two, at home to the Capitals on Thursday and at the Devils on Friday. I expect Greiss to start Thursday vs the Caps. Halak is winless in his two starts vs the Caps.
“When you’ve got a hot goaltender, you want to play him,” Capuano said following Monday’s win.
The third month of the year could be the deciding factor on whether the team makes the playoffs or not and their seeding if they do. The Isles play 16 games in March, three back-to-backs. Half of those game are against fellow Metropolitan division foes. The Isles know firsthand how vital each point is. A season ago Michal Neuvirth was acquired at the trade deadline for Chad Johnson. Seen as an upgrade when the deal was made, Neuvirth won just once in his five starts. Whether you label Greiss as the backup or “goalie 1B”, the team can feel comfortable starting him in any game, any time and that includes Game one of the Stanley Cup Playoffs.