Thomas Greiss worked alone on the ice for more than an hour on Wednesday at the Islanders’ practice facility in East Meadow, rimming pucks around the boards, dropping to his knees to stop imaginary shots and testing his post-to-post agility.
The goalie’s solo workout followed two days of skating with several teammates as the informal practices leading up to September’s training camp have begun. Monday and Tuesday’s group included Semyon Varlamov, signed as an unrestricted free agent to replace Robin Lehner as Greiss’ partner in net.
Their budding working relationship will be crucial to the Islanders’ upcoming season, just as it was last season when Greiss and Lehner shared the Jennings Trophy as the Islanders allowed the fewest goals in the NHL.
“It’s just respect, communication, just working together,” said Greiss, 33, entering the final season of his three-year, $10 million deal. “It’s not rocket science, just good people and having fun with the game and holding the same rope.”
Lehner, who signed a one-year, $5 million deal with the Blackhawks after unsuccessful negotiations with the Islanders, drew much of the attention last season as he compiled a 25-13-5 record with a 2.13 goals-against average and a .930 save percentage then started all eight postseason games. He was a finalist for the Vezina Trophy as the league’s top goalie and won the Masterton Trophy for perseverance and dedication after detailing his battles with addiction and mental illness.
But Greiss posted similar numbers, going 23-14-2 with a 2.28 GAA and a .927 save percentage, a huge improvement over his 13-8-2, 3.82 and .892 in 2017-18.
“It was a good year for everybody,” Greiss said. “Everybody can look in the mirror and be proud of themselves. But it was just a first stepping stone. We’ve got to progress from there, keep it going and not regress.”
Whether Greiss was surprised with the offseason goalie switch, he’s not saying.
“It’s out of my control anyway,” Greiss said. “I keep up with what’s happening. But I don’t follow it too closely or worry about it too much.”
Varlamov, 31, who signed a four-year, $20 million deal with the Islanders after eight seasons with the Avalanche, went 20-19-9 with a 2.87 GAA and a .909 save percentage last season. But he has battled injuries — he missed the last six weeks of 2017-18 with a lower-body issue and was limited to 24 games the previous season after suffering a torn groin.
“I’ve met him a few times here, he’s a great guy so far,” Greiss said. “I think we’ll build a good relationship and I’m looking forward to playing with him this year. He’s very athletic, a fast guy. He’s been in the league for a long time for a reason.
“I think we’re definitely a little different,” Greiss added when asked to compare his playing style to Varlamov, who also stands 6-2. “He plays a little wider, more aggressive. I haven’t seen him too much from him playing in Colorado. We’ll see when we’re out there. New goalie coaches always adjust a little bit here and there.”
Islanders director of goaltending Mitch Korn and goalie coach Piero Greco both were credited with helping to improve Greiss and Lehner last season.
Last season, coach Barry Trotz used Greiss and Lehner fairly equally but not in a strict rotation. If a goalie was playing well, Trotz tended to let him keep the net.
“I have no clue what happens,” Greiss said when asked whether he expected to split time with Varlamov. “It depends what’s happening on the ice. If you play well, you’ll get the ice time. If you don’t play well, then we’ll see you on the bench.”