When Robin Lehner was taken out of a game in early March due to a concussion, the fairytale season for the New York Islanders looked like it might take an abrupt turn for the worse. That was until Thomas Greiss came in to save the day, of course.
The Islanders have relied on their goalie platoon to get the job done this year, and Lehner has played like a serious Vezina Trophy contender from Day 1. But Greiss deserves credit for the job he has done, too. Greiss, currently in his fourth season with the Islanders, has a reputation of being an above-average backup goaltender capable of stealing wins, and since March 5, he has gone 5-2-0, making 30-plus saves in four of his starts.
His strong play earned Greiss the NHL's first star of the week after leading the league in wins, saves and shots faced over the past seven days. Strong play has been the name of his game this year, as Greiss has the fourth best goals-against average (2.21) and save percentage (.928) among goalies with 20-plus appearances. It’s hard to argue that he’s been anything but impressive this season.
On paper, the Islanders don’t seem like a true contender, but the goaltending has been the focal point for the team’s success. And Greiss’ emergence gives the Islanders a tough choice: with Lehner set to return this week, does coach Barry Trotz decide to go with the hot hand or the guy who put the team in a good situation to begin with?
Given that the Islanders are all but guaranteed a playoff spot, the team could choose to ride out Greiss as much as possible and allow Lehner to get a bit of extra rest in what has been a career year for the veteran. Compared to most teams in the Metropolitan, the Islanders are in a good situation when it comes to their backup goaltender, with both options capable of splitting time and putting up great stats.
It’s not like Greiss just finally found his stride in the NHL. He had success as Evgeni Nabokov's backup in San Jose in the early stages of his career and fell shy of hitting the 30-win mark with the Islanders just two years ago when Jaroslav Halak went down with injuries. Greiss was New York's go-to guy during their 2016 playoff run, giving the Islanders hope against a stronger Tampa Bay team in the second round. Lehner, meanwhile, has just two games of playoff experience, filling in behind Craig Anderson with Ottawa in 2012-13. If both Greiss and Lehner have been hot this season, it would make sense to give opportunities to the guy who is playing the best hockey of his life and has already been in charge of a playoff run.
This is a good situation for the Islanders to be in, especially after years of Halak, Chad Johnson and Kevin Poulin playing rather unspectacularly. Both goalies have proven they can be major contributors this year, with Greiss being the latest example to steal the show. Lehner’s return for the stretch run should result in the Islanders choosing to rotate their two goalies, but if you had to give the edge to a guy now, it’s hard to go against Greiss, who is simply playing too well to ignore.