I remember when I was young, there was some kind of goalie controversy that seemed like a big deal at the time. I have no idea who the goalies were, who won, or even if it was the right decision. Clearly it was a big deal. But listening to a commentator talk about the subject, I heard something for the first time that stuck with me ever since. “If you have two goaltenders, then you don’t even have one.” Looking back, it wasn’t like it was a novel concept and I’m sure the commentator who was repeating the idea wasn’t the one who came up with it. Most puckheads have heard that line at some point in their hockey obsession—but it’s something that comes up over and over again.
Over the last few years, that recycled cliché is being challenged by what’s going on down on the ice. More specifically, it’s being challenged by what’s happening to goaltenders (and their teams) in the playoffs.
Are we entering a new age where NHL teams need two goaltenders if they want to win the Cup? Here’s a better question: have we already been transitioned and only now are starting to realize it?
Take a look back at some of the last few goaltenders who won the Stanley Cup. It used to be guys like Martin Brodeur and Patrick Roy who would seemingly play 81 out of the 82 regular season games, then continue on through a draining playoff run. But gone are those days—instead we’ve ushered in the days when teams have a couple of goaltenders throughout the regular season and then ride the hot hand through the playoffs. Then again, we’ve always known that a hot goaltender is the great equalizer in the playoffs.
Take a look at the five goaltenders who lead their teams to the Stanley Cup and their workload shows this trend in action.
|2005-06||Carolina Hurricanes||Cam Ward||28|
|2006-07||Anaheim Ducks||JS Giguere||56|
|2007-08||Detroit Red Wings||Chris Osgood||43|
|2008-09||Pittsburgh Penguins||MA Fleury||62|
|2009-10||Chicago Blackhawks||Antti Niemi||39|
To give a little perspective, here are the goaltenders and their games played for the five years before the lockout.
|1999-00||New Jersey Devils||Martin Brodeur||72|
|2000-01||Colorado Avalanche||Patrick Roy||62|
|2001-02||Detroit Red Wings||Dominik Hasek||65|
|2002-03||New Jersey Devils||Martin Brodeur||73|
|2003-04||Tampa Bay Lightning||Nikolai Khabibulin||55|
There are examples all over the NHL of the importance of back-up netminders. Most people thought that Boston was finally Tuukka Rask’s team—but it was Tim Thomas who had a historic October and was the NHL’s 2nd star of the month. Last season the Canadiens rode the hot Jaroslav Halak to the Eastern Conference Finals—even though he split the regular season with Carey Price. The Sharks have enjoyed Evgeni Nabokov for the last decade, but decided to go with a two-headed monster this season instead. The Kings watched Jonathan Quick fizzle from exhaustion at the end of last season and brought up Jonathan Bernier to help ease the workload this year.
It’s no secret that the NHL season is a grind. But as long as the 82-game season may seem, the best teams still have the toughest part ahead of them when they enter into the playoffs. The games are more intense and every single play is magnified. For goaltenders, that means they have to be on top of their game at all times—because it only takes one mistake to cost his team a game. Or season.
To throw that type of pressure onto a guy who is already exhausted at the start of the playoffs can be excessive. They cannot afford to be mentally exhausted because they won’t be in the proper position needed to be successful. They can’t be physically exhausted or they’ll be a split second late trying to make a save. Who would you rather have in net: the guy who has played 45 games and is relatively fresh, or the guy who played 70 games and has already given all he can give to get his team into the playoffs?
Taking a look at the top 10 goaltenders in games played last year, all but one saw their numbers decline in the playoffs. In many case, there was a significant drop.
|Name||Games||GAA (Reg)||Save % (Reg)||GAA (PO)||Save % (PO)|
If you look at the teams that thrived in the playoffs last year, most of them were led by goaltenders that did NOT play significant portions of the regular season. Cup champion Antti Niemi watched Cristobal Huet start the majority of the Blackhawks’ regular season games. Michael Leighton only played 34 regular season games before he went on his run for the Flyers last season. Halak split time with Price before he helped Montreal shock the Capitals and Penguins. In fact, only Evgeni Nabokov made it to the NHL’s Final Four as the traditional workhorse #1. And that didn’t work out so well for the Sharks in the Western Finals.
Teams are learning that they need to have a couple of guys in net they can depend on if they want to compete for 82 games (and beyond). It’s great to have the one guy you can depend on in the playoffs—but for him to be successful in the playoffs, he’s going to need help to get through the regular season. If they can share the load, they’ll be that much fresher for when the games really matter. Remember, as long as one of the goalies is playing well, there is no goaltender controversy.
You might not think that’s important when you’re playing an inter-division back-to-back in November, but you certainly will if you see your goaltender struggling in April.