Jaroslav Halak and Thomas Greiss shared the Islanders net in 2015-16. They’ve been on Long Island the past week sharing some workout time at IceWorks. And they’re off this weekend to Quebec City to share some goaltending duties with the hodgepodge known as Team Europe for the upcoming World Cup of Hockey.
What happens after that, when the Islanders’ season gets going, is anybody’s guess.
Halak said he’s fully recovered from a serious groin injury suffered in March that cost him a chance to play in the playoffs -- as well as the subsequent sports hernia surgery he underwent in May.
“It’s been busy,” Halak said of his summer. “Surgery, all the rehab, training, there was no time off. But I feel great, hopefully there’s no more problems with that anymore... It was eight weeks after the injury, I still wasn’t 100 percent, still feeling it on the ice so I went to see Dr. [William] Meyers in Philadelphia and that’s how it all happened. It needed to be done, hopefully this is it for me and I’ll be good for the upcoming year and years to come.”
That groin injury and two other minor problems limited Halak to 36 starts last season, opening the door for Greiss to emerge as a surprise rock in the Isles’ net. The 30-year-old journeyman started in goal on opening night in Brooklyn and ended the season as the default No. 1 goaltender, posting a .925 save percentage in 38 starts.
Greiss also was the top reason why the Islanders won their first playoff series since 1993, winning three overtime games as the Isles knocked off the Panthers in six.
It hasn’t changed the easygoing Greiss much. “I just like playing hockey and I focus on that,” Greiss said. “What happened last season is in the past and now it’s time to focus on this season. You always want to play well, but in the end it’s only the results that matter. Doesn’t matter if it’s 10-9 or 1-0, you just have to win.”
Greiss and Halak are both excited at teaming up for the World Cup, which kicks off in Toronto on Sept. 17. There are seven countries represented on the squad and the two Isles goaltenders will be joined by Denmark’s Frederik Andersen, who likely would be the tournament starter -- though he reportedly was injured on Friday playing an Olympic qualifier for Denmark against Slovenia in Minsk.
But neither Greiss, who is German, or the Slovak Halak expects too much to be set for Team Europe.
“Me being injured didn’t help but I’m still happy I’m on the team,” Halak said. “No matter what my role is, I’m going to help out and support the team and I want us to do well. We’ll see if I’m on the bench, or playing, or whatever. We have three exhibition games, whether they will use all three of us, we’ll find out. If I’m playing, I’m playing. If not, I’ll be supporting the team.”
And then there’s the Isles’ situation. J-F Berube, who made six starts last season and served as Greiss’ backup in the playoffs, returned on a one-year deal, so the same three-goaltender crowd last season that caused some unhappiness among the netminders, Halak especially, could be the situation again to start this season.
If Halak shows he’s healthy during the World Cup, there’s a chance he could be moved to a goaltender-poor squad before the season begins, freeing up some salary cap space with the two seasons at $4.5 million per he’s owed.
It could be a move with the young, untested Berube too. But there’s also the chance all three are back.
Halak betrayed no disappointment at that prospect though.
“It’ll be the same thing starting the season, we’ll have three goalies,” Halak said. “We’ll see what happens. These are decisions I don’t make, none of us make. You try to make the most out of the opportunity you get.”
And Greiss, always a man of few words, put it quite directly.
“Whoever plays well plays. You don’t have to overthink it,” he said. “Whoever gets the wins will be in net. Pretty simple.”