Islanders 2015 in Review: Most Surprising Player

Over the next couple of weeks I will review the 2015 calendar year of the New York Islanders. I am starting with the most surprising player of 2015. The choice is basically a no brainer. The Islanders have struggled in recent seasons with their backup goaltenders.  Names like Kevin Poulin, Anders Nilsson, and Al Montoya did not instill confidence with fans. General manager Garth Snow finally rectified the problem this offseason.

The Problems

Snow’s lone move in the early days of July was to address what ailed the Isles in the 2014-15 season. Snow thought he did the previous offseason when he signed Chad Johnson to a two-year contract worth $2.6 million dollars. Johnson had a breakout season with the Boston Bruins. The Saskatoon native went 17-4-3 with a 2.10 GAA and a .925 save percentage. Johnson was brought in to back up newly acquired starter Jaroslav Halak. The tandem looked like one of the Isles’ best in years on paper. Unfortunately the games are not played on paper. Johnson struggled going 8-8-1 with 3.08 GAA and a .889 save percentage.  Snow shipped Johnson to Buffalo at the trade deadline for Michal Neuvirth. He struggled as well in his five games with the Islanders. Neuvirth went 1-3-1 with a 2.94 GAA and .881 save percentage and signed with the Philadelphia Flyers on July 1.

Thomas Greiss – The Solution

When Thomas Greiss was brought in on July 1. Isles fans thought the move was “Chad Johnson 2.0”. Greiss’ lone season with the Pittsburgh Penguins was what you would expect from a backup. The 29-year-old journeyman played 20 games, had a 9-6-3 record with a 2.59 GAA and a .908 save percentage. Greiss bounced around a bit. The Islanders are his 4th team in 7 seasons. Greiss is the perfect backup. He is very dependable and knows the role. He quickly went from backup to starter at the beginning of the season due to an upper-body injury suffered by Halak in the preseason.  The Islanders did not miss a beat with Greiss between the pipes. The German started the season going 2-0-1 with a 2.65 GAA and a .925 save percentage. Unlike Johnson, Greiss had the team’s confidence and even started consecutive games when Halak was healthy. As of December 16th, Greiss is 9-6-2 with a 2.03 GAA and a .933 save percentage and is in the top 5 in GAA and save percentage.

Greiss is already one win away from his career high of 10, set in the 2013-14 season with the Phoenix Coyotes. He also played in a career high 25 games that season, A number which will certainly be broken this season.

The Glory Days

The Halak-Greiss tandem is by far the best one since the Stanley Cup teams of the 80s. Hall of Famer Billy Smith never played more than 58 games in a season, thanks to Glenn ‘Chico” Resch and Roland Melanson. Smith took over in the playoffs. Halak set a career high with 59 games played last season and has played 18 of the team’s 32 games this season. Head coach Jack Capuano doesn’t have to ride Halak as hard as they did last season as long as they have the confidence in Greiss.