PITTSBURGH — The Islanders might not have a goaltending problem, because there are a lot of reasons why the team is allowing 3.37 goals per game, fifth most in the league.
But the Islanders do have a goaltender problem. Thomas Greiss is in a funk after giving up six goals to the Lightning on Tuesday, his first start since being pulled for giving up five goals in barely more than half a game on Friday.
Greiss has won eight of his 13 starts but his even-strength save percentage is .903, 30th out of 33 goaltenders with at least 500 minutes played, according to the Corsica Hockey website.
“Thomas is such an easygoing guy, he’s always, ‘I’m fine, I’m fine, it’s all good.’ But I think it’s something we have to address rather than ignore,” coach Doug Weight said. “We’ve got to help him through it. He’s not dreadful. He’s had some bad luck, some games he’s played well where his numbers weren’t great. Now you pair it with what you’ve seen the last couple weeks, we’ve got to fix it.”
Greiss battled his way through some wins while giving up multiple goals last month. His first game in Tampa, on Nov. 18, was just such a game — Greiss was superb as the Isles built a 4-0 lead and held on for a 5-3 win. Of the eight games the Isles have won with Greiss in goal, the team and goaltender have allowed three or more goals six times.
Jaroslav Halak, Thursday’s likely starter here against the Penguins, is having a different sort of struggle. His even-strength save percentage is .931 (according to Corsica), ninth out of those 33 goaltenders, but he has a low-danger save percentage of .947, which is last (Corsica assigns three danger tiers to quality of shots — High, medium and low).
General manager Garth Snow told Newsday on Wednesday that he has no immediate plans to find a replacement for either of his goaltenders. “When Thomas and Jaro are playing to their capabilities, they’re great goaltenders,” Snow said. “The challenge is to get them to play to their capabilities.”
Another area that may improve the fortunes and mental health of Greiss and Halak is an improved penalty kill. The Islanders have allowed 11 power-play goals in their last 27 times short, dropping them to 29th in the league at a 75 percent success rate.
The drop coincided with Nikolay Kulemin’s shoulder injury and has worsened with Casey Cizikas on the shelf. Cizikas joined the Isles here on Wednesday and might return to action on Thursday.
“We’re a better team with Casey in the lineup,” Snow said. “We’re a team that can score goals, so that’s not an issue. Everyone was pulling their hair out when we started the season 0-for-20 on the power play and we were able to get that working. We should be able to do the same with the penalty kill and get our goals-against down.”