Islanders Should Give Greiss A Real Chance
Thomas Greiss has been one of the most criminally underrated goaltenders in the NHL since 2009. Looking at his numbers, it’s unbelievable that he has never received more than 20 starts in any season.
Wherever he has gone, he has been forced to play behind a goaltender that starts a high majority of his team’s games. Early on in his career, he was slotted behind workhorse Evgeni Nabokov in San Jose. When Nabokov left, Antti Niemi was acquired from Chicago and promptly started 85.4% of Sharks games from 2011-2013.
Leaving for Phoenix (back when they were still called Phoenix) in his age 28 season, he started his career high of 20 games. Coincidentally, that was the best statistical season of his career.
Last season with Pittsburgh? He was stuck behind incumbent Marc-Andre Fleury and managed to start 18 games.
You’d think after spending six years as an NHL backup goaltender on four different teams, the starting goalie would have some kind of injury that would require his services – but no. Greiss has been consistently one of the best backup insurance options in the league, and he has never been in an emergency situation where a team has been rewarded for going out and acquiring him.
What makes Thomas Greiss so good?
Greiss doesn’t “wow” a lot of people with flashy saves, but that’s actually one of his biggest strengths. He plays a deeper positional game than his teammate Jaroslav Halak. When he is on, he has extremely patient eyes that help him read and react to plays efficiently. The game tends to “slow down” around him, which is a byproduct of that patience. At 6-foot-1, it’s not the easiest way to play, but that’s how he feels comfortable. It requires a lot of awareness to be able to read plays at the NHL level like he does.
The patience in his game begins to show itself when you look at his career high-danger save percentage numbers. At .897 this season, he has the fifth-best HD SV% of goaltenders with at least 10 games, sandwiched in between Jonathan Quick and Cory Schneider.
His adjusted save percentage numbers stack up nicely as well. He was slightly under the 5v5 league average mark of .923 last season, but has been above that in every season that he has started more than 10 games. He’s posting a .940 AdjSV% this season, which is good for 6th in the league.
Keep in mind that he has done this while being a backup goaltender, receiving sporadic and sometimes last minute starts. That’s a challenge in itself right there.
Based on Nick Mercadante’s adjGSAA/60 formulation (essentially: adjusted save percentage meets goals-saved-above-average) Greiss is saving the Islanders 0.468 goals against per game at even strength compared to a league-average goaltender. Almost half a goal per game? That adds up over the course of a season.
If you were wondering how Greiss stacks up compared to the rest of the league, he’s top-ten in that statistic as well. He sits in 3rd place heading into the Christmas break.
Is Greiss a better option than Halak?
Halak plays a more aggressive game that forces himself to make the first move in a lot of situations. It’s definitely a riskier way to make a living, but it can be very rewarding for a goaltender that is on the smaller side like Halak. His hands are very quick, and the extra skating that is required plays into one of his strengths.
Playing that way also adds a reliance on rhythm, which can lead to streakiness. Timing is so important for goaltenders like Halak. If it’s off in the slightest, prepare for a long night. When it’s on? That’s when you see the 40-45 save nights.
The Islanders are a middle-of-the-pack team when it comes to the shots and Corsi events that they give up, so Halak isn’t required to bail the team out very frequently.
There is no question that Halak can stop the puck, but the goalie coach in me cringes at how he does it. It’s not always pretty, but he usually gets the job done – which, in the end is all that matters.
He does have a tendency to “pull off” the puck when moving laterally, which causes him to scramble more than other goaltenders.
Here’s one example:
I don’t think it’s physically possible to pull off the puck as much as Halak does here and still make the save pic.twitter.com/c0Ibc0icp0
— Greg Balloch (@GregBalloch) December 13, 2015
Pulling off the puck and failing to track it down causes two problems:
- The goaltender’s body isn’t square when the puck hits. The shot often glances off, and the rebound will go in a less-than-desirable location.
- The goaltender is usually off balance and unable to recover properly to get to the rebound opportunity, causing them to scramble more frequently.
Despite these technical flaws, what it comes down to for me is that Greiss is the more consistent goaltender of the two. He will give the Islanders more chances to win over the course of an entire season. Teams generally feel more comfortable playing in front of a more technically refined goaltender like Greiss, and the results will follow.
Having two quality goaltenders that play different styles is a good problem to have if you’re the Islanders. Greiss received a run of starts early on in the season, but that was only because of an injury to Halak. Now that he’s healthy, hopefully they don’t choose their starting goaltender based on which one has the higher paycheque. It may be a tight squeeze into the playoffs, and they need every point they can get.