Hot hand against one team is ‘all mental’

Given Islanders goalie Thomas Greiss’ latest standout performance against the Hurricanes, what makes a player perform well in a certain arena or against a particular team?

Islanders goalie Thomas Greiss has twice stymied the Hurricanes this season, including a standout performance in the season opener at PNC Arena on Oct. 4. (Gerry Broome / AP Photo)

RALEIGH — As time wound down in the Carolina Hurricanes’ 2-1 home loss Sunday to the New York Islanders, there was one overriding feeling: He did it again.

Thomas Greiss, the 10-year veteran manning the net for the Islanders, had his second dominant performance of the young season at PNC Arena, a 2-1 win that looked an awful lot like New York’s 2-1 overtime victory on opening night.

That’s not new for Greiss, who is 7-3-1 with a .925 save percentage in 12 career appearances against Carolina, including a 6-2-1 record since joining the Islanders in 2013.

And those numbers are skewed negatively by the two regulation losses, both from 2017. Greiss allowed 11 goals on 63 shots in just 85:51 of ice time in Carolina wins on Jan. 14 and March 13 of that year, his only regulation losses against the Hurricanes since he joined the Isles. His eight other appearances against the Hurricanes? He’s allowed 12 goals total.

So what makes a player do well against a specific opponent?

“There’s good feelings sometimes coming into buildings you’ve played well in before and teams that you’ve played well against,” Hurricanes center Jordan Staal said. “You know, it’s all mental.”

Hurricanes goalie Petr Mrazek — who has a large enough NHL sample size to analyze — has had particular success against the Predators (6-0, .940 save percentage, 2.00 goals-against average), Senators (5-0-2, .933, 2.07) and, before joining the team, the Hurricanes (6-2, .943, 2.00). On the flip side, he’s 1-9-2 against the Lightning (.858, 3.88) and 2-5-1 when facing the Penguins (.886, 3.93).

So that mojo can work both ways.

“For whatever reason, there were certain buildings that it just never felt right,” Hurricanes goalie coach Mike Bales, who played 23 NHL games in net along with stints in the minors and overseas. “Sometimes, I don’t know, if it’s because you didn’t play well there a couple times and you’re overthinking things when you go in there. Whatever it is, you’re not feeling it there.”

Bales said back in the day when NHL rinks had different dimensions, a goalie playing well regularly against a particular team — or, more specifically, in a certain building — could be attributed to the comfort level he had with the rink layout.

“I think it’s not as much a factor today as it was back in the day when rinks were a little bit different,” he said. “Everything’s pretty standard now with rink size.”

But there are still times when a team will lean on a goalie’s history against an opponent.

“It’s never a deciding factor, but let’s say you have a back-to-back and one guy has a really good history like they had (Sunday),” Bales said of the Islanders’ visit to PNC Arena. “They had the back-to-back and Greiss has obviously had a pretty good history, lately especially, against us. So I’m sure that was a factor in their decision.”

Both Hurricanes coach Rod Brind’Amour and his captain, Justin Williams, tried to talk down Greiss’ recent performance, saying Carolina didn’t play as well as it had in the season opener, therefore Greiss didn’t have to be, as Williams put it, a “world-beater.”

But, as Staal said, it often comes down to what’s between the ears.

“A lot of the game is mental, and you keep telling yourself you’re going to have a good game tonight, odds are hopefully it comes true,” he said.

Look no further than his coach. When asked if he had any opponents or buildings he played particularly well in, Brind’Amour had one pop into his mind.

“I remember the old Forum in L.A. I loved playing in before they put the new one,” Brind’Amour said. “I don’t know why. I just, kind of a neat building. But I don’t know.”

A look at the overall numbers doesn’t tell the whole story — Brind’Amour had four goals and seven assists in 11 games from 1989 to 1999 at the Kings’ old arena.

But a peek at the box score from the Flyers’ visit to Hollywood on Dec. 29, 1992, gives a glimpse into how the mind of a player works. In a 10-2 Philadelphia win, Brind’Amour had three goals and three assists.

Those six points were the most Brind’Amour had in any of 1,484 regular-season games.

Sometimes, all it takes is one game to give a player the confidence that things are going to go right in that building.

“I hope he doesn’t like our building,” Brind’Amour said of Greiss, “but he probably does now.”

He would know.