The Islanders started their three-day NHL holiday break on Monday after completing a 3-1-0 road trip with a 3-1 win at Dallas the night before.
During the down time, Newsday will analyze how the Islanders' goalies, forwards and defensemen have performed in the first 35 games and how they can improve the rest of the season, starting with the goalies.
Thomas Greiss and Robin Lehner have shared the workload for the Islanders (18-13-4), with Greiss (12-7-1, 2.53 goals-against average, .921 save percentage) seeing more of the work the past two months after Lehner (6-6-3, 2.44, .919) suffered back spasms on Oct. 30. But Lehner has allowed only one goal in four of his last five starts, including Sunday night, and coach Barry Trotz said he expects to have more of a rotation going forward.
Greiss, 32, and Lehner, 27, are adjusting to working with new director of goaltending Mitch Korn and goalie coach Piero Greco. They're playing behind a more predictable defense than Greiss had last season with the porous Islanders and Lehner had with the woeful Sabres.
Greiss said the practical difference is that he’s making one or two reads on plays compared to the five or six options opponents had against him last season.
“The way we play, it gives a chance for the goaltenders to have some predictability in how to play,” Trotz said. “That’s what team defense will do. You watch goaltenders. When they don’t know what’s going to happen, they’re on their heels. They’re guessing. You can’t lock in that way.”
Greiss, in his fourth season with the Islanders and in the second season of a three-year, $10-million deal, is playing more like the goalie who was trusted for the playoff run in 2016 than the one who went 13-8-2 with a 3.82 GAA and .892 save percentage last season while sharing the net with Jaroslav Halak, now with the Bruins.
He and Lehner have allowed some questionable goals in the course of the season — most goalies do — but Greiss, with an economical style and by limiting rebounds, won seven of nine decisions from Oct. 28-Nov. 24.
When Lehner, on a one-year, $1.5-million deal, is at his best, he uses his 6-4, 240-pound frame to full advantage.
“Robin was taking over the No. 1 job,” Trotz said. “Robin got hurt and Greisser saw a little bit of an opportunity to pull it back and he did. Now Robin is in there trying to pull it back from him.”
Plan for improvement: Earlier in the season, Trotz expressed his preference for establishing a No. 1 goalie even as he is now touting the benefits of having a goalie tandem. As the Islanders get deeper into the season and into what they hope is a playoff push, Trotz likely will want to identity which of his two goalies is better suited to handling a bigger load in games of increasing intensity.