Loyalty is important in both sports and life. Still, there are times when you have to wonder if it can go too far.
The Arizona Coyotes and Winnipeg Jets should be asking themselves that question when it comes to how much they’re playing their starting goalies versus their backups. Sometimes, a guy’s resume and paycheck can only go so far, especially on teams that don’t have the luxury to suffer through prolonged slumps.
The situations are a little different in that Jets starter Ondrej Pavelec hasn’t been disastrous while Coyotes No. 1 Mike Smith kind of has been, but just take a look at their numbers versus the work of their second bananas:
Mike Smith (pictured): 4-11-2, .893 save percentage, 3.26 GAA, zero shutouts. He hasn’t won since Nov. 7 and only has two wins since Oct. 28.
Devan Dubnyk: 5-0-1, .926 save percentage, 2.34 GAA and one shutout. Only has four appearances in November.
Ondrej Pavelec: 7-8-2, .917 save percentage, 2.29 GAA, one shutout. Is currently on a four-game losing streak and hasn’t won in five appearances.
Michael Hutchinson: 4-1-1, .947 save percentage, 1.50 GAA, one shutout. Just eight goals allowed so far this season. Waited a week between his most recent and second-most recent starts. Played about two periods worth of hockey in October.
A lot of things can factor into a backup putting up better numbers than a No. 1 guy.
Sometimes a backup gets nothing but lesser competition to chew up. Many netminders are a little tougher to deal with when there’s less known about them (this could help Hutchinson). Furthering that last point, small sample sizes can mislead.
Still, when the results are this lopsided, shouldn’t teams like the Coyotes and Jets decide to put their urges to play their far more highly paid netminders aside for potential short-term gains? Rolling with a hot backup doesn’t necessarily condemn the starter, either; the Los Angeles Kings dealt with injuries and inconsistency from Jonathan Quick only to see him turn things around during the playoffs in recent seasons, as just one example.
(Quick’s been putting together a stellar regular season so far, too.)
Staying the course seems noble, but sometimes you need to take chances to improve. Neither franchise wants to miss the playoffs once again, yet it’s particularly unpleasant to imagine them doing it from self-inflicted wounds.