Just like Alexander in 1972, in 2017-18 Thomas Greiss had a terrible, horrible, no good, very bad season.
Of the 51 goalies to appear in 25 or more NHL games, he ranked 50th in overall save percentage at .892. He was one of just four goalies to not even manage the modest .900 threshold.
While goals against average (essentially: goals allowed per minute of ice time, regardless of pressure) is not a good metric to measure goalie performance, it sure is a good measure of goalie misery: Greiss ranked dead last among those 51 goalies with a 3.82 GAA.
Another measure of his misery is that he received only 25 starts, and 27 appearances overall. A season after essentially taking over the number-one job — following a contract extension and a series-winning playoff performance the winter before — Greiss could only carve out 25 starts. Jaroslav Halak, a frequently injured veteran who’d been banished to the AHL by the organization the previous year, now had more of the organization’s trust.
Can Greiss be better in 2018-19? Of course.
Should he be better? Absolutely.
There are many reasons to think so:
No Longer Defending Chaos
The Islanders under Doug Weight were in so many ways the worst defensive team in the league. That meant a barrage of high-danger chances conceded, something that affected both goalies. Greiss, however, took the worst beating during the season-and-a-half Weight Era, a sharp contrast to his fine performance under Jack Capuano.
In 2017-18, Greiss was — no surprise — the lowest performer when facing high-danger chances among goalies with at least 1000 minutes played, per Corsica Hockey.
The Islanders have taken some hits and made some odd personnel decisions this summer, but one thing we can bet on is a much more organized, disciplined, and accountable full-team defensive approach under Barry Trotz. Trotz won’t stand for the kind of firewagon hockey that leaves goalies constantly facing the most dangerous kind of chances.
Greiss’ best NHL stretches have been behind competent defenses that behave predictably in front of him. The 2018-19 Islanders, at long last, should be such a unit.
He’s Not That Old
At age 32 Greiss is in the second half of his career, the stretch where we should expect a decline. But 32 isn’t that old in goalie years, and Greiss doesn’t have a lot of miles on him. He keeps in outstanding shape and has not been an injury-riddled goalie. He reportedly adjusted his offseason approach as well — and oh yeah, there is that small matter of Goalie Whisperer Mitch Korn now coming into the fold. As Steve pointed out earlier in our 20 in 20 series, Korn has a long history of success.
This is not an Evgeni Nabokov situation where last season’s descent was a sign of a goalie who’s over the hill and lost it.
Ask Not, For Whom Regression Comes
Often we speak of regression in negative terms: A player on a hot shooting streak will regress to his career-norm shooting percentage eventually. A goalie on a shutout streak will see his four-goal game soon enough.
But it works both ways. Slumping players will almost always rebound, unless age, injury and opportunity get in the way. Greiss is going to get his opportunities, age shouldn’t be taking him down just yet, and his numbers were so, so, SO bad last season that it’s unreasonable to think this is his new norm.
Even if he doesn’t regress back to his peak seasons in 2015-17, or even to league average, he will be more useful to the Islanders than last season.
Count on it. (...right?)