The New York Islanders received some tough news yesterday, as the club announced goaltender Jaroslav Halak will miss six weeks with an injury suffered in Tuesday’s win over the Pittsburgh Penguins.
Capuano: Greiss in net tonight vs. Leafs. Halak out at least 6 weeks. #Isles
— New York Islanders (@NYIslanders) March 9, 2016
Halak had been a steady veteran goaltender for the Islanders, who barring a collapse of epic proportions, will comfortably make the playoffs. In 36 games the 30-year-old went 18-13-1 with a 2.30 GAA and a .919 save percentage. The numbers weren’t eye-popping but Halak provided quality goaltending to a team that needed it.
Now that he’s hit the shelf, Halak will hand over the reigns to 30-year-old backup Thomas Greiss. Now, usually when a starting goaltender goes down, a team suffers significantly, but in the Islanders case starting Greiss may improve their fortunes between the pipes.
It may be unfair to call Greiss a backup, because frankly, he’s been outstanding this season. In 30 games he’s posted a 2.23 GAA, equaled Halak’s 18 wins, with an 18-6-4 record, and leads the entire NHL with a .929 save percentage. The Islanders signed Greiss to a two-year deal worth $3 million and so far it’s been an absolute bargain and may be the deal of the offseason.
Greiss has always played well but in limited sample sizes. Since 2012, he’s put up great numbers split between the Islanders, San Jose, Arizona and Pittsburgh. In that span, the German netminder has put up a .937 even-strength save percentage in 80 games which ranks fifth (with more than 2,000 minutes played) behind Carey Price, Henrik Lundqvist, Tuukka Rask and Andrew Hammond – which is impressive company to be a part of. In 2015-16, he ranks fourth in the league in even strength save percentage > 1000 minutes with a sparkling .940 mark. He’s flown under the radar and has become the best backup goalie in the league.
From 2012 onwards Halak has posted a .921 even-strength save percentage, which ranks him near the middle of the league in that time span. This season, Halak’s hovered around the same trajectory, posting a .921 mark. Those are solid, respectable numbers, but not the upper-echelon Greiss was touching. Greiss’ success has come in a small sample size, but he’s proven he’s at least earned the shot at starting. With the opportunity he has the chance to establish himself as a starting goaltender if he can keep it up, and go on a solid run maintaining the New York in the playoff pace.
Where losing Halak hurts the most for the Islanders is playoff experience. Halak is routinely dominant in the playoffs, so much so that they renamed street signs after him in Montreal honouring his puck-stopping efficiency. Greiss, meanwhile, has appeared in one career NHL playoff game. There’s no telling how Greiss will perform, when Halak is close to a sure thing come playoff time.
The Islanders depth also takes a considerable hit, as the club will rely on Jean-Francois Berube as their backup goalie. Berube may be ready to be a backup goalie now, but the combo of Halak and Greiss was a great 1-2 punch. If Greiss goes down, the Islanders are toast.
Coach Jack Capuano told NHL.com he’s comfortable with his changing goalie pairing.
“I’ve got confidence if he does miss some time,” Capuano said. “Berube’s played great for us and Thomas has played extremely well too. We’ve got some quality goalies here and when you run into a situation [like this], hopefully it’s not too long. But we’ve got confidence in the guys that we have here.”
The news may seem devastating but Greiss’ track record at the NHL level suggests he can handle the load for the rest of the regular season. The big question mark for him remains the playoffs, which is where the Isles will miss Halak the most.