Islanders Need to Ride Greiss While He’s Hot

As strong as the New York Islanders goaltending has been, it seems like Thomas Greiss is ready to take over the starting position for the upcoming road trip.

Greiss has been sharing the net with Semyon Varlamov this season, as they have alternated in goal through the first 19 games of the season. They each came into the month of November in the top-10 in both save percentage and goals against average and were a huge reason for the the Islanders’ 10-game winning streak and current 15-game point streak.

However, the last few games, Varlamov has not looked sharp. After only allowing three goals or more twice in his first seven starts, he has allowed 12 goals in the past three games.

Varlamov Struggles

The ironic part of it all is Varlamov had perhaps his best game of the season before the rough patch with a 27-save shutout over the Buffalo Sabres

Buffalo Sabres Sam Reinhart New York Islanders Josh Bailey Semyon Varlamov
Buffalo Sabres’ Sam Reinhart is hit in the back by a shot as New York Islanders right wing Josh Bailey and goalie Semyon Varlamov look on. (AP Photo/Adrian Kraus)

Varlamov was in net when the Islanders’ 10-game winning streak came to an end against the Pittsburgh Penguins. He actually had not allowed a goal in five-straight periods dating back to the game against Buffalo, before being beat three times in the third period and then again in overtime.

He followed that up with a start against the Toronto Maple Leafs and allowed four more goals and then surrendered another four goals to Pittsburgh once again. While the defense is definitely responsible for some of this, it seems like Varlamov has been a bit slow to react. He allowed 2 of the 12 goals on wraparounds and a couple of soft goals as well. 

What to Do?

Just because the Islanders should turn to Greiss for the next few games doesn’t mean Varlamov should not get occasional playing time. The Islanders have one more game with Pittsburgh, which Greiss will most certainly start. They then go out west on a road trip to face the Los Angeles Kings, San Jose Sharks and Anaheim Ducks, and then come home to a back-to-back.

New York Islanders Thomas Greiss Devon Toews Florida Panthers Brett Connolly
New York Islanders goaltender Thomas Greiss and defenseman Devon Toews stop a scoring chance against Florida Panthers right wing Brett Connolly. (AP Photo/Jim McIsaac)

The Islanders should let Greiss get at least two of the three games out west, if not all three games. He enters today first in the NHL in save percentage at .938 and second in goals-against average at 1.98. The other thing to note is Greiss has never really been a starting goaltender. He has taken over the role at times in each of his three years with New York, but is not someone that is accustomed to it.

The Islanders know, though, when he does get a chance to play, he can be really good, as he was in the Islanders’ playoff series versus the Florida Panthers in 2016. 

While Varlamov’s play doesn’t call for a demotion or anything close to that, the Islanders also really don’t have much depth in the American Hockey League. Christopher Gibson, who is the starting goaltender with the Bridgeport Sound Tigers, has looked strong in eight starts, though has yet to prove that he can have success in the NHL.

Christopher Gibson
Christopher Gibson (Geoff Burke-USA TODAY Sports)

The other goaltender, Jared Coreau, is another player who has had limited NHL experience. He is 0-6-1 in Bridgeport this season and is allowing close to four goals per game. The Islanders do know that they have a potential superstar possibly coming over from the Kontinental Hockey League next season in Ilya Sorokin, though that will not help them this season.

Hopefully Greiss can put together a couple of strong games and Varlamov can help fill in a times, but the Islanders are not a team that can sustain giving up four goals per game. While their offense has been better than expected with Mat Barzal and Anthony Beauvillier leading the way of late, they can’t bank on scoring five goals every game.