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Starting goaltenders battling fatigue as playoffs loom


Behind the mask is a mind filled with a web of a thousand thoughts, worries and a singular focus of what it takes to win a game.

Then the next game, then the one after that.

”There is no shut-off for a goaltender,” retired goalie Brian Boucher said. ”The mind doesn’t shut off.”

A starting NHL goaltender bears a burden unlike any position in hockey and few others in sports, and the resulting pressure builds up over the course of a season. By this time of year, with the playoffs on the horizon, No. 1 goalies have grinded through almost six months of work and are battling fatigue that threatens to derail their team’s hopes.

Andrei Vasilevskiy of Tampa Bay is going through it for the first time while Braden Holtby of the Washington Capitals is used to it by now. Goalies of all ages have no choice but to manage the physical and mental hurdles.

”It’s one of those things that you’ve got find ways to make sure you’re prepared and ready to play every game,” Holtby said. ”As a goaltender, there’s not much room to take nights off.”

It’s worse for the goalies whose teams can’t afford to start a backup. Boucher started the final 13 games for Philadelphia in 2010 to help them make the playoffs, Jonathan Quick started 20 of the final 21 games for the Los Angeles Kings when they tried to make a furious push to make it in 2015 and Kari Lehtonen could be counted on to play the final nine games of the Dallas Stars’ season now as they claw for a spot.

[The 2018 NHL Stanley Cup playoffs begin April 11 on the networks of NBC]

”You’ll go through the whole night thinking about tomorrow, show up to the rink in the morning thinking about tonight and then you show up to the game thinking about the game,” said Boucher, now an analyst for NBC Sports. ”Not until that horn goes off at the very end can you finally go, ‘Whew,’ and take a deep breath and hopefully it’s in a celebration with your teammates. …. You have a shower, you feel good about things, you go home, you kind of decompress and then the next day it starts again: the butterflies, the nerves, the thinking about your opponent. And that’s the mental fatigue that comes into it.”

That’s what Vasilevskiy is dealing with at age 23, 58 starts into his first season as the full-time starter and the league leader in victories.

”Tiredness is something that I probably never faced before,” he told The Tampa Bay Times.

The same goes for Winnipeg goalie Connor Hellebuyck, who is between the pipes for meaningful games and on the cusp of his first playoff appearance. Jets goaltending coach Wade Flaherty talks to Hellebuyck almost daily about what he needs to be successful, and the staff pays careful attention to making sure the 24-year-old is good to go.

Coach Paul Maurice said the Jets are aware of the balance between rhythm and rest but aren’t holding Hellebuyck back.

”There’s a fatigue component that a No. 1 goaltender also has to embrace,” Maurice said. ”He has to learn how to play when he doesn’t feel 100 percent right because that’s basically going to be his life.”

Winnipeg has been able to give Hellebuyck blocks of two or three days completely off, a rarity for top goalies this time of year. The Nashville Predators have a big enough lead atop the Central Division that they can afford to lighten Pekka Rinne‘s workload down the stretch, which could be a huge benefit.

”I like thinking outside the box,” former goalie Martin Biron said. ”You may have a Friday-Saturday game, have a Tuesday game, have a Thursday game. You can play your starter on Friday-Saturday and not play him on Tuesday so he gets Sunday, Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday (off) and then he gets ready for the weekend again for the Thursday. There’s a lot more days to be able to decompress and really think about how to reset and re-prepare.”

Holtby got a 10-day reset from a month-plus of struggles as Philipp Grubauer started four games in a row. Having a reliable backup is a luxury Washington has – and Holtby doesn’t like taking days off, either. Toronto starter Frederik Andersen recently joked that he’s more tired of being asked if he’s tired than he is from facing the most shots in the league.

Practice shots, warmups, travel and mental and physical preparation are also part of the wear and tear. Analyst Justin Goldman of The Goalie Guild said those can be spaced out over weeks and months.

”Anything you can do to get a little bit of extra sleep over the course of the season is absolutely monumental when it comes time for the playoff push,” Goldman said.

Biron, who started 59 games for Philadelphia in 2007-08 and backed up Henrik Lundqvist when the New York Rangers realized the ”King” needed more time off, figures 60 is the perfect number for a starter. For someone like Vasilevskiy who can’t afford to learn and wait for next year, Boucher said he hopes a more relaxed market like Tampa Bay helps now and the rush of the playoffs gets him through the grind in a few weeks.

”I think Vasilevskiy’s going to be fine just because you watch his physical attributes, they’re through the roof,” Boucher said. ”So the physical side doesn’t look like it’s an issue. Now it’s his time to shine.”

Follow Hockey Writer Stephen Whyno on Twitter at

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PHT Morning Skate: How Avs turned it around; How Oilers fell apart

Welcome to the PHT Morning Skate, a collection of links from around the hockey world. Have a link you want to submit? Email us at

• It sounds like Marc-Andre Fleury will be joining his teammates in Colorado. That’s good news considering he suffered an injury just a few days ago. They can’t afford to lose him right before the start of the playoffs. (Las Vegas Review-Journal)

• The Colorado Avalanche were awful last year, but thanks to Nathan MacKinnon, Mikko Rantanen, Semyon Varlamov and a few others, they’ve managed to claw their way back to respectability. (Fan Rag Sports)

Brayden Schenn won’t be facing supplemental discipline for the hit he delivered on David Krejci Wednesday night. (NBC Sports Boston)

• No one expected the Edmonton Oilers to fall off the face of the earth one year after making the second round of the playoffs, but that’s exactly what happened. TSN’s Frank Seravalli examines why that happened to them. (

Aleksander Barkov has emerged as one of the best centers in the NHL this season. His ability to play a quality two-way game has them in the playoff conversation. (The Hockey News)

• The “Melnyk Out” billboards in Ottawa have have sparked a national conversation about the way Eugene Melnyk is affecting the Senators fan base in a negative way. (The Sports Daily)

• British hockey player Liam Kirk has developed into a legitimate prospect for this summer’s NHL Entry Draft. Instead of moving to a more traditional hockey country when he was younger, Kirk decided to stay in Great Britain. (Elite Prospects)

• Here’s an interesting list of players that broke the color barrier for each NHL team. (Grand Stand Central)

• The 2018 Isobel Cup will be handed out to the Buffalo Beauts or the Metropolitan Riveters. Here’s a full preview of the championship game. (The Ice Garden)

• Blues forward Jaden Schwartz has developed into one of the most underrated stars in the league. (Bleedin Blue)

• Only one defenseman has won the Lady Byng Trophy since 1954. Could Roman Josi be the next one? (On the Forecheck)

• The fact that so many potential candidates pulled themselves out of the running for the Carolina GM job probably isn’t a good sign. New owner Thomas Dundon might have to reexamine his structure. (Scotty Wazz)

Clayton Keller talks about his path to the NHL, how he prepared for his first full season and more in a Q&A with the Sporting News. (Sporting News)

• Coverage of the Vancouver Canucks seems to have taken a negative turn over the last couple of years, but is that surprising given their recent results? (Canucks Army)

• Up top, check out the highlights from last night’s game between the Golden Knights and Sharks.

Joey Alfieri is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at or follow him on Twitter @joeyalfieri.

PHT Morning Skate: Who are NHL’s most unpredictable teams?

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Welcome to the PHT Morning Skate, a collection of links from around the hockey world. Have a link you want to submit? Email us at

• Two Ontario minor hockey league teams paid tribute to goaltender Roy Pejcinovski who was murdered a few days ago. Both teams wore the letter “R” on their jerseys in the youngster’s honor. (Toronto Star)

• Larry Kwong, who was the first player of Asian descent to play in the NHL, passed away at the age of 94 on Monday. (CTV News)

•’s Travis Yost takes a deeper look at which teams have been truly unpredictable throughout this season. Believe it or not, three of the four teams at the top of the board in this category are in the playoffs. (

• The NWHL final is set. The third championship in league history will feature the Metropolitan Riveters and the defending champs, the Buffalo Beauts. (NWHL.Zone)

• The Golden Knights’ play has dipped over the last couple of weeks. Some of that might have to do with injuries, but it’s also possible that they were so far ahead of everyone else that they lost their focus. (Sinbin.Vegas)

• Doug Weight decided to use John Tavares on the wing over the weekend, and the move may have rejuvenated his captain a little. (The Sports Daily)

• The St. Louis Blues have never won a Stanley Cup title in their history. A lot of that has to do with them not getting good luck at the right times. Whether it’s players succeeding elsewhere, trades and draft picks going wrong, or even facing quality opponents all the time, the Blues haven’t really had many breaks. (St. Louis Game Time)

Connor McDavid is putting together another terrific season, but the Oilers simply haven’t been good enough for him to earn serious Hart Trophy consideration. (Oilers Nation)

• The Montreal Canadiens aren’t going to make the playoffs, which has some people wondering if they should just opt to tank over the final few weeks of the season. (Montreal Gazette)

• Predators defenseman Ryan Ellis had nothing but good things to say about his former assistant coach, Phil Housley, who is now behind the Buffalo Sabres’ bench. “He was more of almost a friend than a coach. That goes a long way with the length of the season and every year, year in and year out.” (Buffalo Hockey Beat)

• Up top, check out the highlights from last night’s game between the Los Angeles Kings and Minnesota Wild.

Joey Alfieri is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at or follow him on Twitter @joeyalfieri.

The Buzzer: Blue Jackets make it 8 in a row; Rinne continues Vezina push


Players of the Night

Cam Atkinson and Thomas Vanek, Columbus Blue Jackets: The Columbus Blue Jackets are one of the hottest teams in the NHL right now and extended their current winning streak to eight games in a row on Monday night with a thrilling come-from-behind win against the Boston Bruins, overcoming a 3-1 deficit to win 5-4 in overtime. It was Cam Atkinson that scored the winner in overtime to get them the win.

Meanwhile, Thomas Vanek had a big night for the Blue Jackets with a goal and an assist in the win.

Columbus is now just two points behind the Pittsburgh Penguins for the second spot in the Metropolitan Division and just four points back of the Washington Capitals for first place.

The Blue Jackets go for their ninth consecutive win on Tuesday night when they visit the New York Rangers.

Pekka Rinne, Nashville Predators: For the longest time it seemed like Tampa Bay’s Andrei Vasilevskiy was going to run away with the Vezina Trophy this season, but right now it is looking like it might be becoming Pekka Rinne’s to lose. He recorded his league-leading eighth shutout of the season on Monday night by stopping all 35 shots he faced in a 4-0 win over the Buffalo Sabres. He is now 40-9-4 on the season and has a .931 save percentage that is tops among all goalies that have appeared in at least 40 games.

He has been especially dominant since Jan. 1. Since the start of the new calendar year Rinne is 21-2-1 with a .939 save percentage that is also tops in the league. During that stretch only two goalies that have appeared in at least 20 games since then have a save percentage higher than .930.

Ryan Donato, Boston Bruins: His team ended up losing in overtime, but we have to give him some credit for scoring a goal in his NHL debut and adding two more assists. He also finished with six shots on goal, the second highest total in the game behind only the eight that his teammate, Brad Marchand, recorded. You can watch his first goal here.

Roberto Luongo, Florida Panthers: After dropping some recent games to teams out of playoff contention the Florida Panthers needed to come through on Monday night against the Montreal Canadiens to keep pace in the Eastern Conference playoff race. They did that with a 2-0 win that saw Roberto Luongo record his third shutout of the season by stopping all 28 shots he faced. It was also the 76th shutout of his career.

Jeff Carter, Los Angeles Kings: Jeff Carter continued his strong play since returning to the lineup with a pair of goals, including the game-winner in overtime, to help lift the Kings to a huge win over the Minnesota Wild. Read about it here.

Max Domi and Oliver Ekman-Larsson, Arizona Coyotes: The Arizona Coyotes are playing much better over the past few weeks and playing spoiler. They picked up another win on Monday night with a 5-2 victory over the Calgary Flames thanks to a pair of goals from teammates Max Domi and Oliver Ekman-Larsson. Ekman-Larsson ended up getting the game-winning goal late in the third period. It was also the 100th goal of his career.

The Canadiens are officially eliminated, and the Flames are in trouble

Not that the Montreal Canadiens were going to make the playoffs at this point, but it became official on Monday night with their 2-0 loss to the Florida Panthers that they were mathematically eliminated from playoff contention.

It was also a brutal night for the Calgary Flames as they lost to the Arizona Coyotes (who continue their improved play late in the season) and continued their late season slide. They remain six points out of a wild card spot with three teams ahead of them. With only eight games remaining on their schedule, while every team ahead of them still has games in hand, it is looking like their playoff hopes are disappearing.

Highlight of the Night

Aaron Ekblad had a big night for the Florida Panthers, getting into a fight in the first period and then scoring this slick goal to give them a 1-0 lead.

That is Ekblad’s 15th goal of the season.

Factoid of the Night

More Pekka Rinne information! His 40th win of the season puts him into some pretty elite company among all-time goaltenders. Yes, he played in the shootout era and certainly benefitted from that but it is still an impressive number, even in the shootout era.


Columbus Blue Jackets 5, Boston Bruins 4

Nashville Predators 4, Buffalo Sabres 0

Florida Panthers 2, Montreal Canadiens 0

Los Angeles Kings 4, Minnesota Wild 3

Arizona Coyotes 5, Calgary Flames 2

Adam Gretz is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at or follow him on Twitter @AGretz.

Caps’ Holtby discusses fatigue before return


Tampa Bay Lightning goalie (and Vezina hopeful) Andrei Vasilevskiy isn’t the only netminder who’s acknowledging being tired, at least to some extent.

Braden Holtby, the Washington Capitals’ frequent workhorse, admitted as much while praising the recent work of upstart backup Philipp Grubauer, as NBC Sports Washington’s JJ Regan reports.

To be more specific, Holtby admits to some mental fatigue, rather than being tired physically:

“Physically, I actually feel way better this year than last,” Holtby said. “If you’re fatigued physically, that’s on you. That’s not on anything else. But mentally, it does catch up.”

Since 2014-15, Holtby leads the NHL in wins (160), games played (250), and saves (6,442) during the regular season. Only Pekka Rinne (42) has played in more postseason games than Holtby (38) during that same stretch of time.

Considering that workload – not to mention how mentally draining it must have been to win two straight Presidents’ Trophies with the Capitals, only to fall in the second round against the Penguins two years in a row – the hockey world probably should have seen all of this coming.

If you want a convenient view of Holtby’s slippage, consider his numbers before and after the All-Star break, via Hockey Reference:

Before: 25-9-2, 2.66 GAA, .917 save percentage
After: 4-6-2, 4.31 GAA, .875 save percentage

On March 7, PHT recommended that the Capitals really give Grubauer a chance, at least for much of the playoff push (and maybe even the playoffs). The suggestion wasn’t meant to degrade Holtby; instead, the goal would be to rejuvenate the workhorse goalie while also seeing how far Grubauer might take them, considering that the young netminder is hoping to earn a new contract as an RFA.

A day later, former NHL goalie Brent Johnson put up a detailed analysis of Holtby’s fatigue, and how goalies handle and hide fatigue in general, in a thread on Twitter. Johnson began with a salient point: now, more than ever, the game of hockey is played at an incredible pace. Such a speedy game makes things more taxing for a goalie, who must keep track of the puck at all times. Asking a goalie to be a workhorse now is maybe an unrealistic demand.

Johnson added that goalies will rarely share that they’re tired with the media or coaches. Some of that might come down to the culture of the sport – “hockey tough” – and other factors, possibly in some cases related to job security. Such a sentiment makes it so refreshing to see Vasilevskiy and Holtby acknowledge the obvious.

Johnson also stated that Grubauer carrying more of a workload would actually help Holtby, and that seems to be a sentiment that the Capitals goalie also shares. As Regan reports, Holtby said that Grubauer’s “held our team together” and “that takes a lot of pressure off the rest of us.”

The nice thing for the Capitals is that they’ve been able to monitor this issue in March, rather than when the playoffs kick off in April.

[The 2018 NHL Stanley Cup playoffs begin April 11 on the networks of NBC]

This doesn’t just serve as a warning and a lesson for Barry Trotz and the rest of the Capitals organization. It should also serve notice to the rest of the NHL that it’s foolish to ignore the warnings that come from sports science, sports psychologists, and others who warn against wearing out athletes.

Honestly, it should really be common sense.

You can be a “tough team” and still take measures to keep your most important players rested. After all, it’s easier to get over the hump/go the extra mile/run through that brick wall if you have more energy, right?

James O’Brien is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at or follow him on Twitter @cyclelikesedins.