Every week of the 2018-19 season, our Rob Taub will discuss one player from the Islanders to look out for. Whether it’s past performances, certain matchups, or something about that player that makes worth spotlighting, each article will describe why they are being featured. Also — if one or two players, or the team is coming off a good week — there will be multiple spotlights.
Through one month, to call Thomas Greiss a revelation, would be an understatement.
Greiss, who statistically was the worst goaltender in the National Hockey League last season, is off to a red-hot start. As of right now, Greiss’s numbers inflatable water slide are 4-2-0 with a 1.85 GAA and a .944 save percentage. His counterpart, Robin Lehner, is right there next to him — 4-2-1, with a .928 SV%.
Josh Bailey had this to say to Newsday’s Andrew Gross about Greiss and Lehner: “Both guys have done a great job. It just brings a lot of confidence to us and a lot of belief that we’re going to get the job done when those two are playing the way they have been.”
The one word in that statement, confidence, is a crucial intangible if you’re going to be a good team in this league. Nobody — including this blogger and keen watcher of the Islanders in every facet — would have predicted what we’ve seen from Greiss so far because his confidence has been restored.
Watching Greiss from about mid-March 2017 through all of last season, it was easy to see he was not only overworked, but his confidence wasn’t there. The term “soft goal” had become synonymous with whomever would man the position over the past few years, but it was Greiss who would usually receive the brunt of the fans frustration. You could even point out the Islanders basically abandon any defensive structure last season — which led to giving up an abundance of shots each game — made Greiss’ regression inevitably worse. Former head coach Doug Weight said before last season even began that he wanted his goalies to be able to see shots from all angles. But, that style made it extremely difficult for the goaltenders, particularly Greiss, to really have any easy night because they were always under siege.
When the Isles brass decided to bring in Barry Trotz to be the new bench boss, he had already had an impressive resume of goaltenders. Pekka Rinne and Braden Hotlby easily come to mind. Having those two at the top of that list, there was a better feeling that Trotz could possibly recreate that magic with The Big German. Insert Mitch Korn, the goalie whisperer and Piero Greco, who won the Calder Cup as goalie coach in Toronto with the Marlies.
It’s very clear that whatever Korn and Greco have done with the 32-year old, whether it’s re-discovering that fire that showed in his first season in 2015-16 or just fine-tuning his techniques that were heavily exposed last year, he looks like a completely looking goaltender in the early going.
Greiss in his eight appearances — except for the home opener against Nashville — has shown a much calmer demeanor. He is looking more square to the shooters, his timing on certain shots has gotten way better (contribute some of that to his team playing defense), and he looks more poised. Nearly all of last season, once Greiss gave up a bad goal, the floodgates would open and he was rattled. In just about every start this season, if he gives up a softy, he shakes it off and goes back to visualizing the puck as if it were a beach ball.
Last week, once Greiss took over for Lehner at the start of the third in Pittsburgh, he gave up an early goal. Then for the rest of the period completely shut down a vaunted Pens offense. He did the same Thursday in the last ten minutes of regulation after a fluke power play goal and all the way in to the shootout, including a ballsy decision to poke check Sidney Crosby on a breakaway that would have won the game. Stifling the Devils over the weekend for his first shutout of the year, just shows how rejuvenated Greiss looks and feels.
— Eyes on Isles (@eyesonislesFS) November 2, 2018
Right now, it’s still undecided as to whether Greiss or Lehner are the clear cut number one. And it’s not a bad thing. The Isles have really not had this type of balanced netminding since Greiss and ex-teammate Jaroslav Halak led the charge in that 15-16 season — a 100-point and playoff year if you don’t remember. But make no mistake, if Greiss can continue to build off his stellar start, he will take sole possession of that top spot.
Greiss ranks near the top of every goaltending category, and this week is another chance to prove that his start is not a fluke and that this team is for real.
A surprising Montreal Canadiens squad who has that same offensive attacking mindset as the Devils will pose for another good challenge. If given the start against in Tampa on Thursday, Greiss will get even more for his money having to deal with Steven Stamkos, Nikita Kucherov, and the rest of that Lightning-fast forward group (pardon the pun). Saturday in Sunrise would also be a test for Greiss, because the Islanders usually have a hard time any time they are matched up with the Panthers.
The expectations were so low for Greiss and the entire team before the season began. But so far all that was supposed to go wrong for the Isles, has gone right.
And it’s Greiss that has been right there at the forefront leading the way.
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