Doug Weight said he’s been looking for players to grab the reins of late.
“Forwards, D — I’m looking for guys to force me to play them,” he said. “That obviously goes for goaltending as well.”
Weight may have found his man in goal. Thomas Greiss was the star of Saturday’s 5-2 win over the Blues in St. Louis, making half a dozen “wow” stops among his 35 saves.
The Islanders played a strong game and converted opportunities well against the best team in the Western Conference, but they wouldn’t have gotten very far without Greiss’ acrobatics.
And it could not have come at a better time. The Islanders have had no trouble scoring through their 9-6-2 start, but their goaltending tandem of Greiss and Jaroslav Halak has been decidedly average. The Isles carried a team save percentage of .898 into Saturday’s game, in the bottom third of the league.
At even strength, Halak’s .917 save percentage sits below the league average of .921. According to the website Corsica Hockey, his “low-danger” save percentage of .937 is worst in the NHL among goaltenders with at least six starts.
Greiss’ numbers over the course of the season were worse than Halak’s, but in terms of Weight’s evaluation, Greiss has had higher highs than Halak. Of Greiss’ four wins in eight starts this season, three involved some robbery. He made 40 saves in a 3-1 win over the Sharks on Oct. 14 and 31 saves in a 6-4 win over the Avalanche on Nov. 5 before Saturday’s high-wire act.
“Thomas in the past two weeks has started to gain momentum,” Weight said. “It was a real good team we played, with some real dangerous shooters. He was confident and our team was feeding off it. I definitely took note of that.”
The Islanders are off until the Hurricanes come to Barc lays Center on Thursday, the start of two sequences in the coming two weeks in which the Islanders will play three games in four nights. Even if Greiss is anointed the No. 1 goalie, he and Halak both will get regular work.
The Islanders need more consistency from both of their goaltenders. Halak won four straight starts recently, beginning with his usual strong outing against the Rangers, but was the culprit in a 4-3 loss to the Capitals on Nov. 2 in Washington and was in net for the 5-0 loss in Dallas on Friday.
In Weight’s system, the goaltenders need to make the saves they can see, and the coach has preached to his defensive-zone players to clear the front of the net. Halak’s weak numbers on easier chances aren’t part of that system.
So for now, it seems, Greiss is the one forcing Weight’s hand.
“Even before the game, we were talking. We didn’t necessarily need him to steal one, but at least get that vibe,” Weight said. “He was dialed in, and your team feeds off it.”