One of the most intriguing training camp competitions was settled Saturday morning.
The Penguins announced that goaltender Jeff Zatkoff has been placed on waivers, meaning offseason signee Thomas Greiss will be the backup netminder for starter Marc-Andre Fleury.
“I’m really happy,” Greiss said after Saturday’s practice. “That was my goal. Both guys worked hard in training camp and battled. Competition is always good.”
Greiss and Zatkoff, who will be assigned to Wilkes-Barre/Scranton of the American Hockey League if he clears waivers by noon on Sunday, handled an identical workload in the preseason.
Both goalies played in two games and had almost the same amount of minutes (Zatkoff – 91, Greiss – 89). But Greiss put up better numbers in goals-against average (1.35 vs. 2.64) and save percentage (.944 vs. .846).
“The decision was very difficult,” goaltending coach Mike Bales said. “Both goaltenders performed very well in training camp. There wasn’t a huge gap.”
There is a lot to like when watching Greiss. The first thing that pops out about the German keeper is the amount of space he occupies. Though he’s listed as only 6-foot-1, the two-time Olympian packs in a solid 220 pounds. His barrel chested upper body leaves little room for pucks to pass through.
“Thomas has great size and covers a lot of net,” Bales said. “He has a good combination with his size and play-reading ability.”
Greiss plays a blend of modern and old school style of goaltending. He likes to play deeper in his crease, something that his size helps him to do. Playing deeper makes it easier for him to move laterally and post-to-post.
And what’s also noticeable is the demeanor Greiss displays in the crease. He’s composed and calm while handling one of the most pressured positions in all of sports.
“He’s what I call a ‘quiet goaltender,’” head coach Mike Johnston said. “He takes care of business, but looks very calm and controlled in the net.”
Greiss, a third-round pick (94th overall) of San Jose in the 2004 NHL Draft, played last season with Arizona, backing up 2014 Olympic gold-medal winner Mike Smith. During the season Greiss set career highs in games played (25), wins (10), goals-against average (2.29) and save percentage (.920).
Greiss played eight-straight games for Arizona while Smith was out with an injury. So Greiss has proven that he can be a reliable backup, but also carry the load if called upon.
“He’s had experience in the league and had to carry the reigns in Phoenix last year when Smith went down,” Johnston said. “I thought in the exhibition games he looked poised, looked confident, looked comfortable.
“I liked his poise and confidence and I like his experience.”