Goaltending is the one of the greatest equalizers in the NHL.
Great play at the position will mask a lot of flaws and carry an average team a long way. Bad play at the position can sink any Stanley Cup contender in the blink of an eye. It wins coaches the Jack Adams Award, and can then get them replaced one year later.
As we head into the second half of the 2021-22 NHL season there are three playoff teams that have some goaltending situations that could dramatically impact their chances. Let’s dig into them a little bit.
Does Washington need an upgrade?
Goaltending is not the only issue for the Capitals right now, but it is something that is probably worth looking at for two reasons.
- It was a question mark when the season began and nobody has really taken a significant step forward.
- It might be the easiest of their current flaws to fix while making the biggest impact.
The question here is how much faith you have in the duo of Ilya Samsonov and Vitek Vanecek to go through the playoffs. Samsonov has been seen as their goalie of the future for several years now, but he has not really taken a big step forward, and his play over the past two months has slipped. At the same time, Vanecek’s play has been by far the better of the two since the start of December. But is that good enough for what the Capitals are going to need?
As a team, the Capitals’ all situations save percentage is 17th in the league and was 19th a season ago with the same duo. Not terrible, but not exactly game-changing, either.
The most intriguing option for the Capitals here is making a push for Marc-Andre Fleury, who will almost certainly be made available by a Chicago Blackhawks team that is going nowhere fast. Not only would it make sense from a hockey standpoint, but the potential storylines it could lead to if we get a Capitals-Pittsburgh Penguins playoff matchup would be off the charts. Fleury can still be a top-tier goalie and would give the Capitals a clear upgrade in net.
Another thought: What about a reunion with Braden Holtby? Holtby has had a strong season in Dallas, but the Stars are far from a lock to make the playoffs, still have a crowded goalie situation, and Holtby would be a cheaper (both in terms of salary and assets) should he be made available.
Husso is outplaying Binnington in St. Louis
Four years ago Jordan Binnington burst onto the scene in St. Louis and helped turn their season around, solidifying a goalie position that was dragging down an otherwise great team. He backstopped them to their first Stanley Cup and became the team’s franchise goalie. Even though his production has been on a fairly consistent downward trend since then (with some ugly postseason showings in there as well) the Blues still committed to him with a long-term six-year, $36 million contract extension that kicked in this season.
The early results have not been great.
After allowing seven goals on 35 shots on Tuesday night (in only two periods), his second straight start where he allowed six goals, his all situations save percentage for the season dropped all the way down to .901. That is not where you want your starter to be. Lately, Binnington has not actually been the starter.
The Blues have been leaning on backup Ville Husso in recent weeks and riding the hot hand.
There is a pretty dramatic difference in the Blues’ overall team performance depending on who the goalie is this season.
[NHL Power Rankings: Avs take top spot; here come the Bruins]
In games where Binnington is the goalie of record they have an 11-9-3 record while Binnington has a .901 save percentage,
When Binnington is not the goalie of record, the Blues are 14-3-2 while the quartet of Husso, Charlie Lindgren, Joel Hofer, and Jon Gillies have combined for a .940 save percentage.
Expecting that sort of performance to continue is expecting too much (nobody posts a .940 mark over a full season) as neither Husso or Lindgren have that sort of track record in pro hockey. But it is pretty clear that they are the Blues’ best options right now in house. The main storyline here though is the Blues’ big-money goalie has not reversed the recent downward trend in his production and is being outplayed by the other goalies on the roster.
Avalanche might be okay in net after all
In terms of their forwards and defense there is not a better roster on paper than the Colorado Avalanche. The big question was going to be in goal where they had to replace Vezina Trophy finalist Philipp Grubauer with Darcy Kuemper.
They paid a steep price for Kuemper in an offseason trade with the Arizona Coyotes, and the early results this season were a little mixed. Add in the absence of Pavel Francouz at the start and goaltending depth seemed to be the one big question in Colorado.
Lately, though, that is starting to change.
Kuemper is starting to find his game and has a .924 save percentage over the past two months, while Francouz is back and won six of his first seven starts with a .932 save percentage. Prior to Kuemper’s bounce back and Francouz’s the Avalanche might have been a team in the market for a goalie, but given the investment they already made in Kuemper, as well as the level of play from both goalies right now, that might be pushed to the back burner.