Pressing Playoff Question: Which teams should be most worried about their goaltending?
Several of them.
The long answer is, well, longer -- just consider what’s about to transpire. Goalies in Ottawa (Andrew Hammond), Detroit (Petr Mrazek), Vancouver (Eddie Lack), Winnipeg (Ondrej Pavelec), Minnesota (Devan Dubnyk) and Tampa Bay (Ben Bishop) will all be making their postseason debuts, and we still don’t know who’ll start in St. Louis (Brian Elliott or Jake Allen) or Anaheim (John Gibson or Frederik Andersen). Nashville’s Pekka Rinne ended the year mired in a slump, and Pittsburgh’s Marc-Andre Fleury’s postseason struggles are well documented.
So yeah, just a few goaltending concerns out there.
Let’s start with the unresolved situations in St. Louis and Anaheim. Blues head coach Ken Hitchcock hinted Elliott may be the guy based on his body of work against Minnesota this year, but refused to confirm anything -- possibly because Allen was the better goalie down the stretch. Ducks head coach Bruce Boudreau was even more coy, opting not to elaborate on Gibson’s health (he’s dealing with an injury) or how it could impact the starting goalie gig.
Clear as mud. Moving along...
In Vancouver, head coach Willie Desjardins won’t confirm the obvious -- it’ll be Lack, not Ryan Miller, who’ll open against Calgary. Lack took over for the injured Miller in mid-February and impressively backstopped the Canucks to the postseason, with Miller getting just one start over the final two months of the season, a shaky 6-5 OT win over Edmonton in the season finale.
The real question with Lack is the length of his leash. As mentioned above, he’s never made a postseason appearance -- a far cry from Miller, who has over 50 on his resume, and was Vancouver’s starter for the majority of the season.
The Vancouver situation is not unlike Ottawa’s. There, Andrew “the Hamburglar” Hammond will roll into the playoffs as the club’s white-hot No. 1, on the heels of a remarkable regular season in which he lost just once -- yeah, once -- in regulation. But like with Lack, one has to wonder what happens if Hammond falters; sitting behind him is veteran Craig Anderson, who had himself a fine year (2.49 GAA, .923 save percentage) and, lest we forget, won a playoff round for Ottawa in 2013.
Detroit’s in a similar boat to the Canucks and Sens. Jimmy Howard, the No. 1 for most of this year, has been parked in favor of rookie Petr Mrazek. It’s a roll of the dice from Wings head coach Mike Babcock, who’ll be relying on Mrazek -- he of the 40 career NHL games -- over Howard, who has 45 career playoff games.
Once place with no playoff veteran is Winnipeg, where both Pavelec and Michael Hutchinson are headed to the postseason for the first time. Pavelec’s the No. 1 based on his clutch work down the stretch -- the Czech netminder posted three consecutive shutouts to close out his year -- but it’s important to note that, for long periods this season, Hutchinson was the Jets’ go-to guy and only had 10 fewer starts than Pavelec did.
Then there’s Tampa Bay and Minnesota.
There’s no question about who’s No. 1 -- Bishop and Dubnyk are locked in -- but certain unknowns remain. Bishop should’ve gained some much-needed playoff experience a year ago, only to miss the Lightning’s entire opening-round playoff loss to Montreal with a dislocated elbow. How will he respond to the pressure this year? The same question can be asked of Dubnyk who, with his 29th birthday just weeks away, is the oldest of the goalies making their playoff debuts (and the most improbable.)
Finally, there’s Rinne and Fleury. The former hasn’t been very sharp since the All-Star break, going 12-11-4 with a 2.48 GAA and .911 save percentage -- a far cry from the Vezina-worthy numbers he posted in the first half. Fleury’s hardly been Pittsburgh’s problem, but he now finds himself in unfamiliar territory; with a defense wrecked by injury and an offense that’s struggling to score, the Pens almost need Fleury to go out and win them some games (as opposed to past years, when all they needed for was him not to lose ‘em.)
Scrolling back, that’s 10 of 16 playoff teams mentioned in this article.
Think goaltending might be a hot topic this spring?