What if someone asked you in January, “Which New York area goaltender would last the longest during the 2015-16 Stanley Cup Playoffs?” Your answer probably would have been one of two of the NHL’s best in Henrik Lundqvist and Cory Schneider. However, the Stanley Cup Playoffs are anything but predictable, which allows for unheralded players like Thomas Greiss to make a significant impact.
John Tavares is an incredible talent, but the biggest story for the New York Islanders during the team’s first-round series victory over the Florida Panthers was the effort between the pipes by Greiss. During the six-game series, the Isles had an expected goal differential of .469. The Panthers drove the play for the majority of the series, but could not chase Greiss. Based on the pre-shot movement and location data, Greiss was expected to register a .919 SV%, but instead, he delivered a .941 SV%. For a series that featured three overtime games, Greiss’ performance was a major influence on the result.
Greiss isn’t a goaltender that can overcome his environment long-term like Lundqvist and Schneider, but when placed in the proper situation and structure, his skills can compliment a defense.
Throughout the playoffs, Greiss has been elite when the Islanders place him in situations where information gathering is easier. In these situations, Greiss has been significantly above average, registering a .968 SV%, which is significantly above the league average of .949. He has also been elite when he is forced into desperation saves when the opposition attacks the slot line.
Success on clear-sighted looks is the most important aspect of a goaltenders game because these shots make up the bulk of their workload. The Islanders were able to continually provide him with these looks against the Panthers as 88% of his shots came in this environment. This is higher than the league average of 84%. We can see below how allowing Greiss to gather the maximum amount of information can lead to success.
Clear sight, no backside pressure and no extra variables (like sticks or bodies in front of him) will allow him to maintain positive results. This number will prove extremely hard to maintain as the sample increases. During Carey Price’s MVP season, he had a clear sight save percentage of .963.
Greiss has also been spectacular when the play has broken down around him. The Islanders have exposed him to the league average distribution and he has continually delivered above average results throughout the postseason. The slot line feed is the most dangerous shot a goaltender can face. Lack of information creates a scenario where the goaltender needs to move in a desperation manner to maximize his net coverage without being able to calculate the depth or angle of the incoming shot. League average goaltenders are successful on 65% of these shots. Through seven games, Greiss has been successful on 75% of these shots. Lundqvist, the best goaltender in the league against these types of opportunities, has a career save percentage of 73.9%.
The only aspect of the game in which Greiss has struggled has been secondary opportunities off rebound shots. He has been placed in these scenarios only seven times, about half the amount of the average distribution, but has surrendered three goals. The Islanders have done a good job of boxing out opposition attackers by trying to pick up these high-quality secondary chances, and Greiss has been the beneficiary.
In Game 1 against the Tampa Bay Lightning, the Bolts were the better puck possession team and superior puck moving team, as they entered and exited their zone more efficiently. This lead to the Islanders struggling to insulate Greiss like they had against the Panthers in the first round. Instead of 88% clear-sighted looks, Greiss faced an average distribution of 84%. Greiss faced four high-quality slot line feeds and stopped three. He faced one rebound shot and it resulted in a late goal by Valtteri Filppula. The result, Greiss delivered a slightly above average performance of .917.
Through seven games, Greiss has delivered a performance well beyond expectations. But as always with small samples, they tend to regress to the player’s true ability. When we consider that he has been the equal to Carey Price on clear-sighted shots and Lundqvist on slot line feeds, it’s safe to assume that Greiss will move closer to the league average performance.
However, he will probably have some positive movement in his rebound save percentage. A continuation of his current success will be reliant on the Islanders slowing down the Lightning in the neutral zone, limiting their zone entries with speed and funneling clear looks into him like they did against the Panthers.