Isn’t it amazing how quickly fan sentiment can change in the NHL playoffs? Isn’t it fascinating how drastically one’s reputation can rise or fall?
Just two weeks ago, Islanders’ fans were holding their breath at the thought of Thomas Greiss starting in goal for the team’s first-round series against the Panthers. And now they’re all singing his praises at once.
Through seven games of the 2016 playoffs, Greiss has lifted the Islanders to five wins while posting a .941 save percentage and a 1.94 goals against average (and “lifted” is not a word we use casually). In his team’s five victories, Greiss has averaged 40 saves. John Tavares may be the one soaking up the spotlight in Brooklyn, but it’s Greiss’ heroics that have allowed the captain to shine.
It wasn’t supposed to happen like this. Entering the playoffs, Greiss had a total of zero postseason starts under his belt. On top of that, he had well exceeded his typical workload in the regular season. And although he rebounded in the last week or so before the playoffs, he had endured an extended spell of futility after taking over for the injured Jaroslav Halak in early March.
Put it all together, and Greiss seemed like a ticking time bomb hovering over the Islanders’ Stanley Cup dreams. But when the team has run into trouble, he’s turned into their very own safety valve.
For all his contributions, Greiss is still the Isles’ nominal backup. The net is Halak’s to lose when he returns, which, by all outward appearances, figures to be soon. That presents a tough decision for Jack Capuano, who will have to decide between the hot hand and the proven one.
Really, though, the situation is cut and dry.
You stick with Greiss. You have to.
A Calming Presence
This would all be very different if the German netminder hadn’t morphed into the Berlin Wall the past two weeks. If the Isles were winning in spite of Greiss and not so much because of him, Halak would have a reasonable claim to the starter’s role. But the Islanders have Greiss – and Tavares – to thank for their current position, and Capuano must stick to that formula.
Moreover, he must show faith in it. If Greiss has a poor outing with Halak waiting in the wings, there is no reason for Capuano to panic and change course. Greiss has earned the extra latitude. This feels like more than lightning in a bottle.
What Greiss has demonstrated, especially late in games and during overtime is a prevailing sense of equanimity. He isn’t flailing and sprawling to make impossible saves. He isn’t turning around to thank his posts every few minutes. He is keeping the puck out, first and foremost, through fundamentally sound goaltending.
So the net is now his. It’s not that Halak lost it. It’s that Greiss since the playoffs began, has been too good for the team to justify giving it back.