When the NHL schedule is announced and you skim over the highlights of your team’s path, you already know that back-to-back games will be no surprise. At least with this shortened season, teams are not being asked to wear out their passports and those sleeping neck pillows with the amount of traveling over the 48 game schedule. Reports say all teams will play in-conference only. However, these multiple b2b contests will feature no shortage of sluggish starts and lazy finishes. It will also highlight the less than flashy position of the BACKUP GOALIE!
I want to pose the question: if you were a head coach would you ride your #1 until the point of exhaustion or use the strategy of platooning (a word I’ve made up for the sake of this article) you’re starter and backup.
Some teams have the luxury of a great tandem, a 1A and 1B more commonly described in today’s NHL… and other teams do not.
Blackhawks’ fans seem to be annoying their magic eight ball with questions of how this season will play out with Corey Crawford as their go-to guy; will he remain in his “sophmore slump” or return to the form that we saw in his rookie year? Hold on, how about also asking yourself another question; how is this season going to play out when Corey Crawford is not playing.
Ray Emery was a warrior last year and demanded a high level of respect of his teammates as they followed him into battle without question. Their enhanced play with him in the net is a good sign. However, Ray is in a unique position after being diagnosed with avascular necrosis in 2010 which requires him to work very hard on a daily basis to maintain his level of athleticism. So was this extended rest a benefit to him or did it hinder his routine? I heard from a good source that earlier in the summer Ray was seen wearing a cast with an alleged basketball injury that would have been a setback in his training. Time will tell how rusty Razor Ray is going into this season. One thing is for certain, the effort will always be there with him and it’s that determination that could see him overthrow Crawford for the starting position.
Typing and knocking on wood isn’t easy, but that’s what I’m doing as I type this next sentence; if by chance the Hawks suffer an injury to either goalie, Carter Hutton would be next in line. The 28-year-old journeyman would be an adequate replacement on a short-term stint but I’m not sure what he would look like after the stress of full time gig in the NHL. Hutton has been facing NHL talent though in the AHL during this lockout and performing quite well. The Hawks could very well trade and upgrade their goaltending position for the short and/or long-term but that remains to be seen.
How does the rest of the league fair between the pipes? Here’s the good, the bad and the ugly potential storylines in the tending of goals position:
Teams that could benefit to the their 1-2 punch:
St Louis: Halak/Elliot & Hitchcock… need I say more?
Los Angeles: The reigning Vezina winner coupled with a former 11th overall draft pick isn’t a terrible recipe.
Pittsburgh: Tomas Vokoun has never been a backup and isn’t one yet. PIT is stating that Fleury and Vokoun will be vying for the number #1 job, which can’t hurt them in the standings.
Teams that could suffer from their 1-2 punch:
New Jersey: Brodeur & Hedberg have an average age of 39.5. The end.
Boston: Rask’s first season as a starter with an unproven backup could leave Tim Thomas snickering from his secret layer in Colorado.
Toronto: I still say they get Luongo, but if they don’t, Reimer and Scrivens leave a lot of question marks.
Teams with limited or too many punches:
Vancouver: They could benefit greatly by keeping Luongo but after naming Schneider as the starter he needs to move on before it gets weird… oh wait.
Ottawa: Anderson is proven, Lehner is ripping it up in the minors and Ben Bishop is… er tall (6 foot 7 if you’re scoring at home) which gives them a lot of options.
Personally, I would go with the (…wait for it) platooning approach to limit the wear and tear on my #1. Lindy Ruff disagrees as there are reports out of Buffalo say that Ryan Miller will be penciled in for 36-38 games of the 48 regular season game. I could also see Joan Hiller (if healthy), Miikka Kiprusoff and Carey Price also eclipsing the amount of games of their co-workers.
Riding your starter makes sense in a way considering that every game is so much more important, but I feel like it could be a mistake wearing them down potentially causing injuries and fatigue.
For a quick snapshot from last year’s starter vs. backup percentages I would like to lean on a great website www.dailyfaceoff.com.
If you’re a fantasy nut like myself, you will be able to spend a lot of hours on this site. Obviously these numbers will trend differently as some of the personnel has, not to mention the shortened season factor. For in-season reports on injuries, starting goalies, etc. for your fantasy league, visit this site or follow on twitter @DailyFaceoff.
Time will tell which coaches will employ which strategies and there’s no time for second-guessing. A slow start could put a good team out of the playoffs and vice versa for the Toronto Maple Leafs. Sorry it’s too easy to pick on Leafs Nation. Hopefully I don’t need to call for backup myself!
Love to hear your feedback… comment away… don’t be shy.
Ty Cam out!
About the Author: I am a rare Chicago Blackhawks fan from Canada, one might describe me as a hockey connoisseur and a solid checking line centre to your local rec hockey team. I once lived in a town of 500 people and now work in the hockey mecca that is Toronto. I work in the wonderful world of Advertising and these opinions are one of my own and not of my company - don't get it twisted.