For new goalie partners there's a bit of a feeling out process. Whether it's learning different strengths and weaknesses, providing feedback, collaborating on drills, or even just locker room chats, cultivating a trusting dynamic is crucial for a establishing a productive relationship in the crease.
For two seasoned pros like Thomas Greiss and Semyon Varlamov, it's not a foreign process, but still a necessary one. Instead of waiting until training camp to get acquainted, the newly-assembled tandem skated together on Long Island last week and went to dinner accompanied by Isles Director of Goaltending Mitch Korn and Goaltending Coach Piero Greco.
"We had dinner with the goalie coaches the other day just to get to know each other a little bit," Greiss said. "We talked there for a while, just dressing room stuff. He seems like a great guy. I'm looking forward to the season with him."
Varlamov's early arrival comes as a result of a whirlwind summer for the 31-year-old Russian netminder. After playing the last eight years in Colorado, Varlamov signed a four-year deal as a free-agent with the Islanders on July 1. Varlamov wrapped-up his 11th season in the NHL with a 20-19-9 record, 2.87 goals against average (GAA) and a save percentage (SV%) of .909.
Varlamov's attraction to join the Islanders was influenced by the lights out performances from both Greiss and Robin Lehner, who shared the pipes during the 2018-19 regular season. Greiss compiled a 23-14-2 record, with a 2.28 GAA, a .927 SV% and five shutouts, while Lehner registered a 25-13-5 record, a 2.13 GAA, .930 SV% and six shutouts and received the starting nod for all eight postseason games. The duo earned the William M. Jennings Trophy, for fewest goals against, while Lehner was nominated for the Vezina Trophy. Greiss and Lehner were just the latest success stories for Korn and Greco and Varlamov is eager to have the Isles coaches help him connect the dots.
"I am very excited to start working with them and learn something new," Varlamov said. "I'm 31, I'm still open to learn something because the league is changing, the game is changing, so goalies need to come up with some new ideas. I know we can trust these two guys and they are going to help us improve our game."
Greiss isn't the sole early arrival to Long Island to welcome Varlamov to the club and join him for on-ice sessions and workouts; Thomas Hickey and Matt Martin spent their summers on Long Island and are now getting back into the routine of hockey season with informal skates. For a blueliner like Hickey, he can attest to the importance of getting extra time with both netminders and also helping Varlamov acclimate to his new surroundings.
"It's good to have both goalies here actually," Hickey said. "I think Greisser has a good rapport with everyone and especially other goalies. I think that's unique. They seem to get along really well. [Varlamov] is a big guy. It's tough to tell in practice, but he's obviously got that resume that speaks for itself. [Goalies] are all hard to score on for me, but he's a good goaltender. I think he'll bring a lot of good stuff for us this year. He seems like he's more dynamic than your average goaltender in the league. That athleticism and his track record will be a great addition for us."
Video: Greiss wins 2018-19 #IslesAwards Save of the Year
In many ways, Varlamov and Greiss aren't all that different. Both utilize their athletic builds as an advantage; Greiss is 6-foot-2 and 232-pounds and Varlamov stands 6-foot-2, 205-pounds. Both are experienced vets; Greiss has played 10-years in the league and 13 playoff games while Varlamov is an 11-year veteran with 26 postseason appearances in his pocket. And similarly, both are remarkably disciplined and have a laid-back personality.
Varlamov is looking forward to refining that relationship with his counterpart now that he is settled with a place to live, and with the waning weeks dwindling down, time is the only obstruction between now and the start of hockey season.
"Thomas has been in the league for a long time and he's a great goalie," Varlamov said. [Greiss] is a great person and is working really hard in practice. I can tell he's a hard-working guy. It's going to be fun hockey season for us, we have a lot of things to do together."