The labels have significantly changed for Islanders goaltenders Thomas Greiss and J-F Berube. With the injured Jaroslav Halak nearly three weeks removed from his last game and no return in sight, Greiss is no longer a backup and Berube isn’t just a happy-to-be-here No. 3 goalie.
While Greiss is No. 1, a crammed schedule of seven games that starts Thursday against the Blue Jackets and concludes with the Flyers April 10 means both goalies are likely to have an impact in the remaining regular season games. And perhaps beyond.
The Islanders, with 91 points, are fourth in the Metropolitan Division and hold the first wildcard in the Eastern Conference. They trail the Penguins (94), Rangers (95) and Capitals (113) in the division.
How the goaltending will be handled for whatever postseason scenario develops is uncertain. If Greiss as No. 1 is the way he is feeling, coach Jack Capuano isn’t saying. “We still gotta make the postseason first,’’ he said on Wednesday. “I’m not going down the stretch foreseeing what’s going to happen.’’
The Islanders are 20-11-4 in Greiss’s starts. He has one NHL playoff appearance on his resume, with the Sharks in the 2009-2010 season. Berube has none, though he was instrumental last season in the AHL postseason for Manchester, the Kings’ affiliate. “What counts in my mind is his focus, his competitiveness,’’ Capuano said of Berube. “And when you have success at one level, it doesn’t matter where it is. You’re a winner and you won because you’ve done something right.’’
Berube, who is 3-1-1 with the Islanders, said of his AHL playoff experience, “For sure, it’s stuff that you just put in your toolbox, you kind of use it long term. I’m someone who likes pressure, I feed off it. I like having those little butterflies in my stomach. I feel like it elevates my game. I feel comfortable in those situations. Right now we’re fighting for playoffs, we’re getting ready for playoffs. The pressure is there. But when you have pressure that means you have a chance and you can do greater things. I might be a rookie on paper but that’s not how I feel on the ice. I feel real comfortable out there. I feel like I can do great things.’’
Capuano said of Greiss, “Thomas has been in some big games before. I’ve known him awhile. I coached against him in the American League. I know what he’s capable of doing. Obviously, it’s unfortunate that Jaro got hurt but (Greiss) loves the opportunity that he’s in.
“There’s no reason why (either) of those guys can’t do the job when we ask them to do it. They know our system, they know where they’re going to see shots from. They’re competitive, they’re young, they’re eager. I have a lot of confidence in J-F and Thomas is an experienced guy. He’s played more hockey than he’s ever played. He’s in a position where he’s played against good competition for a long time and this is an opportunity to embrace it.”
Greiss’s approach has not been different since taking over for Halak. “I don’t think I have to change anything,’’ he said. “I’m playing my game. If somebody tells me I’m backup or if I’m the starting goalie I just want to play the best that I can so it doesn’t really change anything in my head. It’s always fun when you play hockey. It’s a little kid’s game. Everybody just wants to play and have fun.’’