By Daniel Friedman
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There is some uncertainty surrounding the Islanders and, for a change, it has nothing to do with Barclays Center.
It has to do with their goaltending situation, and it’s a problem a team with playoff aspirations generally doesn’t want to be dealing with as it nears the 60-game mark.
Sometimes, riding the hot hand isn’t the most important thing. It’s one thing if you know the other guy isn’t capable of stepping up, but Jaroslav Halak has earned more of a chance to prove himself.
It’s hard for a team to go into the playoffs with a goalie controversy and expect to make a deep run. It just doesn’t work.
Look at what’s happened with the St. Louis Blues in recent years. They still can’t decide between Brian Elliott and Jake Allen.
Look at what happened to the Pittsburgh Penguins a few years ago when they played the Islanders. Tomas Vokoun ended up taking over for Marc-Andre Fleury and the whole situation was a mess.
The Anaheim Ducks couldn’t make up their minds between Frederik Andersen and John Gibson and it cost them. The San Jose Sharks kept switching between Antti Niemi and Alex Stalock.
That’s not what a team wants to be dealing with come playoff time, and that holds true whether it’s a team trying to take the next step like the Islanders or one that is NHL royalty, like the defending champion Chicago Blackhawks.
Thomas Greiss has been better lately, but Halak in my opinion is the better goalie in the bigger picture. The Isles need to let him get back into a groove. I’m sure the uncertainty has shaken him up a bit as he seems like the kind of player who plays with more confidence when he knows he’s the guy. Right now, I’m not sure how confident he is. Regardless of the situation, the temperature of the guy being paid to be the starter has to be taken.
Greiss is a nice insurance policy, but Halak has to be the go-to guy down the stretch.
Statistically, Halak’s play so far has been virtually identical to last season. His goals-against average is actually slightly better (2.42, compared to 2.43 in 2014-15) and his save percentage is .914, as it was last season.
Greiss’s career goals-against average is 2.40. His save percentage is .918. I’d say his play of late is the exception, rather than the rule. And keep this in mind, also: Greiss’ previous career high for appearances in a season was 25, established in 2013-14 with Arizona. This season he has appeared in 26 games, so there’s no telling what he’ll do with an increased workload.
And don’t forget this as well: Greiss has one game of playoff experience, while Halak has 30. You cannot tell me that doesn’t matter.
Last season, Halak was a hero of sorts. Now, he’s a goat. Go figure.
Despite what you may have heard, the Islanders don’t have three goalies.
Well, technically they do, but JF Berube shouldn’t factor into the equation unless Halak or Greiss gets hurt. There won’t be a three-man rotation down the stretch. So, at least the situation isn’t as complicated as it could’ve been.
But the Islanders have to give Halak time to get back into a rhythm. As their starting goalie and after all he did for them last season, they owe it to him to show some respect and not be so quick to throw him under the bus; and that applies to the fans as well. Judging from recent reactions, one would think he has been the worst goalie in NHL history and hasn’t done anything good for the Isles, but if you just open your eyes it’s obvious that he has been pretty darn solid.
It’s quite possible Greiss could eventually turn back into a pumpkin, and if so the Islanders would then be stuck with a ticked off and disrespected Halak as their other option. That’s not a recipe for success.
This all started when the Isles elected not to go with Halak right after the All-Star break, which was, frankly, a slap in the face to him. I don’t care that Berube had been playing at a high level in the AHL, or that the Isles won the game he started. It was the wrong call, period. End of story.
Halak should’ve started Thursday night against Washington as well.
What really bothers me about this whole situation is that it seems like Greiss was just given the job to start the second half. He certainly was playing well, but Halak wasn’t afforded the opportunity he had earned, either due to is play during the first half or after all he did last season.
“Thomas has been playing well and there’s no reason not to put him back in there against Washington,” Islanders coach Jack Capuano before Thursday night’s game in Brooklyn.
There were a number of reasons not to put him back in there against Washington, Jack.
Hopefully, the Islanders won’t find that out the hard way.
Follow Daniel on Twitter at @bardownhowitzer