Ryan Pulock pondered and paused. What do players look for, the Islanders defenseman had been asked, that establishes trust in goalies?
“It’s a good question,” Pulock said after Tuesday’s practice in East Meadow. “I don’t know if it’s anything you look for. I think it’s just something that comes. You gain that trust in a player just from them doing the right things, over and over. They just consistently do their job.”
Coach Barry Trotz has started the season allowing both Thomas Greiss and free-agent signee Semyon Varlamov to establish that trust, alternating them through the Islanders’ first six games. If that pattern holds, Varlamov will start Thursday night when the Islanders open a two-game road trip at Winnipeg.
Greiss, in the last season of a three-year, $10 million pact, is 2-1-0 with a 2.27 goals-against average and a .925 save percentage after making 21 saves in Monday’s 3-2 overtime win over the defending Stanley Cup champion Blues at NYCB Live’s Nassau Coliseum. Varlamov, who signed a four-year, $20 million deal, is 1-2-0 with a 3.16 GAA and .905 save percentage after stopping 35 shots in Saturday’s 3-2 shootout win over the visiting Panthers.
Both goalies faced considerably fewer odd-man rushes in those starts than in their first two.
“We’re still working a lot on my technique and trying to improve things,” said Varlamov of his sessions with director of goaltending Mitch Korn and goalie coach Piero Greco. “It’s not easy to make those adjustments. It takes time and you have to believe in the process.
“We’re trying to simplify my game and work on some things with the footwork, bring my feet closer together,” Varlamov added. “It’s small things but small things make a big difference when you play the game.”
Trotz said he’s a “big believer” in giving both his goalies work early, figuring the team will need to rely on both throughout the long season.
“We’ve been able to keep both of them engaged and allowing Varly to come to a new team and assimilate,” Trotz said. “Not only with his teammates but with the way we play.”
At a certain point, though, Trotz will start giving a hot goalie more games in a row.
“If anybody wants to take the role full time, we’ll do it,” Trotz said.
Still, splitting time between goalies rather than having a defined starter who plays 60-70 games has become more of the norm in the NHL.
“I think the game has gotten faster,” Greiss said. “It’s more demanding on the goalies. There’s just so many games, it’s tough on the body. It’s keeping guys fresh for the playoffs. It’s a long run there if you want to make it deep. Those are the main reasons.”
Notes & quotes: Trotz said he was not sure whether either center Casey Cizikas (injured reserve/lower body) or right wing Jordan Eberle (lower body) would travel to Winnipeg. “I think Ebs is extremely doubtful,” Trotz said. “Casey is probably a little closer for right now.” Cizikas has been wearing a walking boot on his left foot.