On July 1, 2019, Islanders fan watched as their fan-favorite goaltender Robin Lehner left the Island and signed with the Chicago Blackhawks. Many Islanders fans were sad to be Lehner go. In just one year with the team, he was a Vezina Trophy finalist, a significant contributor to an Islanders playoff team, and above all, an inspiration to people and hockey fans everywhere.
During the 2018-19 season, Head Coach Barry Trotz split much of the goaltending time between Lehner and Thomas Greiss. That formula leads to both goalies winning the Jennings Trophy, the trophy won by the team’s goaltenders that allow the least amount of goals in the league in a given season. But what was unique about this goaltending duo is that they played almost the same amount of games, Lehner playing 46 and Greiss not far behind with 43.
So after a season where the Islanders relied so heavily on two goaltenders, it would be necessary for the Islanders to grab a reliable replacement to Lehner. So the Islanders wasted little time signing Russian goaltender Semyon Varlamov to a four-year, $20 million contract. While the length and money in this contract clearly showed the Islanders confidence in Varlamov, there were still questions going into the season on who would be the starter?
As the season began, the Islanders opened the season with Varlamov between the pipes. He lost his first start against the Capitals and was pulled from the net in his second start against Edmonton. In Greiss’ first two starts, he was 1-1, and many people were pointing towards Greiss to be the starting goalie moving forward for the Isles.
But since then, both goalies have played like starters.
The Islanders are having a sensational season and the Islanders have yet to use the same goalie twice in a row. While much of the season last year the Islanders were seen riding the hot hand, this season, both goalies are the hot hand.
The defensive system Barry Trotz has proven to bring out the most of Islanders’ goalies, and it is continuing to bring out the best in Varlamov and Greiss.
But what does this mean for the future of the Islanders? We’re only one month into the season, and there’s still plenty of more hockey ahead of us than behind us. But what Greiss and Varlamov have shown up to this point of the season could mean plenty for the Islanders moving forward.
Firstly, if the Islanders are in a playoff position come March and April, having two goalies that can consistently win games will be a significant plus. It will give both goalies a chance to rest and be fully ready for playoff time come mid-April- early May.
Secondly, if at any point this season, one of the goalies is struggling, being able to plug in the other will be huge for the Islanders.
The Islanders are off to a running start this season, winning nine in a row, and their two goalies are significant contributors.