There’s an old adage in football that if you have two quarterbacks, you don’t have a quarterback. The thought behind it is that a coach — and a team — needs to know, without equivocation, who the No. 1 guy is, at all times.
Barry Trotz apparently doesn’t think the adage applies to hockey goalies, in this day and age.
“You've seen what we've done the last two years. We rely on both our goalies,’’ the Islanders coach said before his team opened the Eastern Conference final series Monday against the Tampa Bay Lightning. “I think that the NHL sort of demands that now. There are very few teams that have the Marty Brodeurs, who used to play 70-some games. I don't think that's the NHL now. And I think you have to develop two goalies.’’
Trotz has done that in each of his first two seasons with the Islanders. This season he used both Semyon Varlamov and Thomas Greiss extensively during the regular season, and though he started Varlamov in 14 of the Isles’ first 15 postseason games this summer, he was willing to opt for “freshness’’ in starting Greiss Saturday in Game 7 of the Islanders’ second-round series against the Philadelphia Flyers. Greiss responded with his first career playoff shutout as the Isles beat the Flyers, 4-0, to advance to the conference final.
For Game 1 against the Lightning, Trotz elected to stay with Greiss, who only faced 16 shots on Saturday, for a second consecutive start. Greiss stopped 72 of 75 shots he saw in the three games he played in the Flyer series.
As soon as the Isles finished off the Flyers, the immediate question for Trotz was whether he should stay with Greiss (2-1, 1.08 goals-against average, .960 save percentage entering Monday), or return to Varlamov (9-4, 2.00, .921), who has won two series this summer and had been one of the biggest reasons the Isles have advanced to the NHL’s final four for the first time since 1993.
In his pregame media briefing, Trotz declined to reveal which goalie he’d picked for Game 1.
“You have to trust that both goalies can get it done and, and we've been in a position where both our goalies have done that,’’ he said.
Trotz picked Varlamov to start in the qualifying round series against Florida and the Isles won the best-of-five series in four games. He stayed with Varlamov for the first-round series against Washington, and they won that best-of-seven in five games. Varlamov had back-to-back shutouts in Game 5 against Washington and Game 1 against Philadelphia, and he broke Billy Smith’s franchise record by going 138:17 between goals allowed, before the Flyers’ Kevin Hayes scored on him early in Game 2.
But when Varlamov allowed two more first-period goals in that game, Trotz pulled him in favor of Greiss, and the Isles rallied from a 3-0 deficit to tie it up and force overtime. They lost, 4-3, and Varlamov started Game 3 of the series. He won that one, and Greiss started Game 4, which was the second game of a back-to-back. Greiss made 36 saves and won, 3-2, to help the Isles take a 3-1 series lead, but Varlamov went back in net for Games 5 and 6. When the Islanders lost both those games in overtime to set up a Game 7, Trotz made a change and turned to Greiss.