The J.F. Berube Dilemna

The New York Islanders began the post All-Star break of 35 games in 68 days with a bit of a curveball, starting third-string goaltender Jean-Francois Berube in Tuesday night’s game against the Minnesota Wild.

The move paid off as Berube stopped 40 shots en route to an Islanders’ 5-3 win at the Barclays Center. Berube looked a little shaky on the goals he allowed. But it did make a few unbelievable saves. The decision to start Berube was first-guessed by every Islanders fans. Why start a goalie who has not played in the NHL since October 10th? Head coach Jack Capuano’s reasoning was a bit suspect.

J. F. Berube was great in his two-week conditioning stint with the Bridgeport Sound Tigers of the American Hockey League going 4-0 with a 0.97 GAA and a .967 save percentage. Those numbers are impressive in any league but it should not leaped frog him over the first two goaltenders on the depth chart.  The Islanders schedule leading up to the All-Star break was light, playing three games in 15 days. Both Jaroslav Halak and Thomas Greiss are healthy and well rested. Greiss who has been a revelation for the Isles, has not played since January 12th. The 30-year-old has had a career year going 13-6-2 with a 2.32 GAA and a .927 save percentage. Greiss will easily pass his career high of 25 games played. The Islanders have seven back-to-back games in the remainder of the regular season. So give seven more starts to Greiss. While Halak is on pace to finish well below his career high of 38 wins set last season, his 2.14 GAA and .923 save percentage are improved. He will also fall well short of the career high 59 games he started a year ago. So workload will not be an issue for Halak.

The Metropolitan division is all of a sudden tight race. Six points separate the third-place Isles and the seventh-place Philadelphia Flyers. The Isles have games in hand against the New York Rangers (2), Pittsburgh Penguins (1), New Jersey Devils and Carolina Hurricanes (3). Every point is valuable. The Islanders know all about from a season ago. One more point and New York would have hosted the deciding Game 7 against the Caps. Capuano took a huge gamble starting Berube.

“When we announced (Berube) this morning, a few people looked at me like I head three heads,” Capuano said. “But he played real well last week in Bridgeport, he was ready. He’s part of the team. We have three goaltenders and it’s not going to change. He played great.”

Who is Jean-Francois Berube?

The 95th overall pick in the 2009 draft by the Los Angeles Kings won the 2015 Calder Cup with the Manchester Monarchs. He was claimed off waivers by New York on October 6th as insurance in case Halak was not ready to start the season. Halak started the season on injured reserve and Greiss opened up as the number one goaltender. Berube made his NHL debut the second game of the season allowing four goals to the defending Stanley Cup Champion Chicago Blackhawks. Berube would be a healthy scratch until he was sent to Bridgeport for a conditioning stint. He was injured in his first game with the Sound Tigers and placed on injured reserve. Once activated, he would return to Bridgeport for his second two-week conditioning stint. Since Berube has to clear waivers in order to stay in the AHL, the Islanders brought him up.

I think the main reason Berube played Tuesday night and might get another game in the near future is that they are showcasing him. The trade deadline is February 29th. General manager Garth Snow could include him in a deal with defenseman Travis Hamonic, who requested a trade prior to the start of the regular season. I still don’t think the Isles will trade Hamonic until the season ends. Calgary may be a favorable trade partner. The Flames could use a goaltender. Snow did not give up anything to acquire Berube and trading him would bring back at least a mid to late draft pick. If Berube is on the roster in March, it may be easier to pass him through waivers and send him down to Bridgeport.