Pittsburgh Penguins Need To See What They Have In Thomas Greiss


Oct 23, 2014; Detroit, MI, USA; Pittsburgh Penguins goalie Thomas Greiss (1) during the game against the Detroit Red Wings at Joe Louis Arena. Mandatory Credit: Rick Osentoski-USA TODAY Sports

Give credit to Mike Johnston and the Pittsburgh Penguins.

It couldn’t have been easy to start Thomas Greiss in net Tuesday after No. 1 goalie Marc-Andre Fleury had recorded back-to-back shutouts. Even if Fleury had to stop just 18 shots in his Saturday blanking of the Sabres, it must have been tempting to turn back to him against the hot-starting Wild.

Instead, Johnston and his staff went with Greiss, and the 28-year-old presided over his first Penguins victory, an impressive 4-1 decision in St. Paul. It was Greiss’ second start in 11 games, as Pittsburgh (8-2-1, 17 points) has ridden Fleury with the schedule rather sparse at the beginning of the season.

With the workload increasing to 14 games in November, we will see more of Greiss, who was signed to a one-year contract in the offseason. But that’s not the only reason the German-born netminder should be getting additional action.

No, the Penguins owe it to themselves to see what they have in Greiss. He has played in just 71 games – starting 54 – in parts of six NHL seasons. Greiss’ career save percentage in the Show is an average-ish .915, although he turned in a .920 mark last season in 25 games (20 starts) for the Coyotes.

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To sum up, Greiss is mostly an unknown quantity at this level. After more than a decade with the Penguins, Fleury is not. Now in the last year of his contract, Pittsburgh’s No. 1 draft pick in 2003 has established himself as an average NHL goalie, capable of highs and lows in nearly equal measure.

While Pens general manager Jim Rutherford has paid lip service to re-signing the 29-year-old Fleury at some point this season, it stands to reason that if Rutherford were truly locked in on that plan, he would’ve done it already. Instead, Pittsburgh remains without a goaltender on its projected big-league payroll for next season.

I see this as a test for Fleury and Greiss. Although the former has dominated the playing time thus far, I would be shocked if that continues to be the case. Fleury is almost certainly going to command more than his current $5 million annual salary in his next contract, and the Penguins should see if they can get his level of goaltending (or better) for a cheaper price.

If they do have to replace Fleury next summer, the easiest way to do that would be to extend Greiss. But first, they have to find out what he can do when given a legitimate chance.

Maybe Tuesday was the start of that opportunity.