“You can’t overthink it and blow it up in the…"
Media. That was, in all likelihood, the word on the tip of goaltender Thomas Greiss' tongue when he trailed off in his stall after Wednesday night's game. You can't blow it up in the media.
It bodes well for Greiss' chances as a No. 1 NHL netminder that he's so good at deflecting attention. He knows what storyline emerged Wednesday but wants nothing to do with it.
Jaroslav Halak, the battle-tested veteran sharing the New York Islanders' crease with Greiss all season, is shelved. Halak sustained a lower-body injury Tuesday night against the Pittsburgh Penguins and is expected to miss six weeks. That timeline has him recovering by late April. Greiss thus owns the starter's reins to himself for the rest of the regular season and, probably, the beginning of the playoffs. It's the biggest opportunity of his career, bar none.
Greiss, 30, has long been an effective backup, one of the league's best. The German import worked his way up from AHL Worcester in the Sharks system. He was the team's No. 2 by 2009-10. His career took a step forward when he hit free agency in summer 2013. He's spent the past two-and-a-half seasons on one-year deals with the Coyotes, Penguins and now the Islanders. With Halak getting hurt two other times earlier this campaign, Greiss has already played a career-high 30 games. He's acquitted himself excellently, tied for the NHL lead with a .929 save percentage. Per war-on-ice.com, His 5-on-5 save percentage of .940 ranks fourth in the NHL. Halak ranks 31st at .922.
But it's one thing to post numbers like that without the pressure of being a team's backbone. It's another to do it as a first-time No. 1 this late in a career. Greiss' first game as The Man came Wednesday night in Toronto. The Isles lost in a shootout, but he more or less passed the preliminary test. The three goals he allowed weren't softies, and he made plenty of big saves, especially in the third period. He also handled things smartly after the game, doing everything in his power to downplay the idea of pressure, even if he recognized that it existed.
“For sure, but it’s not what I’m thinking about right now," he said. "I’m thinking about the team making the playoffs. That’s the most important thing."
Greiss excelling under scrutiny and the Isles making the playoffs go hand in hand. Isles coach Jack Capuano didn't want to heap unnecessary expectations on Greiss, who is enjoying such a fine season so far, so Capuano chose not to give Greiss a pre-game pep talk Wednesday. No reason to fix what ain't broke. And Capuano was happy with what he saw from his new starter that night, particularly when Greiss surprised Leafs rookie William Nylander with a poke check during the shootout.
"He's good," Capuano said. "He's a competitive kid. He's gonna get out if you've got your head down and you’re on a breakaway. He does it in practice all the time. He’s going to fight for every inch of his ice out there, and he’s gonna do what he needs to do.”
Capuano said he'll speak to Greiss eventually, but also to Jean-Francois Berube, who assumes No. 2 duty. Given Greiss will see a bigger workload than he ever has, he'll need a breather here and there.
Matt Larkin is an associate editor at The Hockey News and a regular contributor to the thn.com Post-To-Post blog. For more great profiles, news and views from the world of hockey, subscribe to The Hockey News magazine. Follow Matt Larkin on Twitter at @THNMattLarkin