NHL teams putting importance on backup goaltender position

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BOSTON — The Boston Bruins had it all set up to honor backup goalie Jaroslav Halak on Tuesday night for becoming the 74th goalie in NHL history to play in 500 games.

Then something went wrong: Starter Tuukka Rask was injured, Halak became the No. 1 guy and the Bruins decided to postpone the ceremony until a night Halak would be off.

”A lot of times, they’re in a zone before the game. We want them to enjoy that ceremony,” coach Bruce Cassidy said. ”With Tuukka’s, injury we were forced to change it.”

There are a lot of NHL teams making a lot of changes because of injuries to their starting goalies this season – and not just the ceremonies to honor middling milestones. Four goalies selected for the All-Star Game are injured, with Rask joining Columbus’ Joonas Korpisalo, Arizona’s Darcy Kuemper and Vegas’ Marc-Andre Fleury. (Rask had already begged out of the game before he was injured.)

For NHL teams, the days of riding one goalie as much as possible have long since passed. Now, general managers know they need a strong No. 2 to get the team through the back-to-backs and the injuries that can pop up at any time.

”Some of that’s obviously the ability of the second goaltenders. Some teams just don’t have that,” Cassidy said. ”We’ve got two guys we feel real comfortable with. It makes for a good combination. Jaro, he’s handled if before. If it was Jaro hurt, Tuukka could have handled it.”

Last week, the Panthers said Chris Driedger will miss several weeks with what’s believed to be a groin injury. Starter Sergei Bobrovsky has already missed much of January with an unspecified injury.

Minnesota’s Devan Dubnyk was out for 15 games because his wife had a serious medical situation, and the Wild went 9-3-3, with six of those wins credited to Alex Stalock, their primary backup in his third season with the team.

The Coyotes thought they had their No. 1 goalie for the future when they got Antti Raanta from the Rangers in 2017. But he played just 59 games his first two seasons in Arizona. Darcy Kuemper took over and earned a spot in last year’s All-Star game, finishing fifth in the Vezina Trophy Award voting.

When Raanta returned, the Coyotes went with co-No. 1’s, and hovered near the top of the Pacific Division. Then Kuemper, who was 15-7-2 and second in the league with a 1.97 goals-against average, was injured on Dec. 20 and hasn’t played since.

Coyotes coach Rick Tocchet said there was interest in Raanta earlier in the season, and he’s glad that general manager John Chayka didn’t bite on trade offers.

”I remember him saying to the staff, ‘A lot of teams are calling about Rants. We all looked at each other and said, ‘Rants and (Kuemper) are the identity of our team. They give us a chance to win,”’ Tocchet said ”I mean, we try to play good defense and do a lot of other things. But they give us this identity and this confidence. Why would we want to put a crack in the armor?”

Raanta went 9-9-2 before he was injured early this month. Adin Hill, who played 17 combined NHL games the previous two seasons, has gone 2-2-1 with a 2.40 goals-against average with Kuemper and Raanta out.

Bobrovsky won two Vezina Trophies in Columbus before departing for Florida as a free agent, and Korpisalo inherited the No. 1 job. A five-game winning streak in December landed him an All-Star selection.

But Korpisalo injured his knee trying to block a shot in a shootout on Dec. 29; rookie Elvis Merzlikins, a 25-year-old Latvian who had never won an NHL game when he took over, is 8-2-0 with a .955 save percentage, 1.55 goals-against average and three shutouts in his last four games.

”There’s certain teams in the league, they rely on one guy,” Cassidy said. ”Some of that may be that their salary cap just played out that way. They didn’t have the luxury. The cap probably precludes you from going to fix an area that maybe you didn’t see coming, or you did see coming but, hey, you went and spent it somewhere else.

”I just know as a coach, whoever’s number is on the board to go into the nets, we feel good about our chances.”

Carey Price pulls out of 2019 NHL All-Star Game to ‘rest and recuperate’

UPDATE 1/8: The NHL has announced that Lightning goaltender Andrei Vasilevskiy will be Price’s replacement.

The NHL All-Star Game will be without another star player as Montreal Canadiens goaltender Carey Price is pulling out of the weekend in San Jose to rest up after overcoming a “nagging injury.”

He’s the second player to announce that they’re staying home to rest following Alex Ovechkin decision last week. And like the Washington Capitals forward, Price will be suspended one game either before or after the All-Star break.

From Canadiens general manager Marc Bergevin:

“We took the time to discuss the situation with Carey and the medical group earlier today, and we all agreed that the best decision for him would be to rest and recuperate during the upcoming All-Star Break. Carey has had a nagging injury for some time, and we want to make sure to have him healthy and rested for the second half of the season. Carey is honored to once again have been named to the NHL All-Star Game, and he is on board with the Club’s decision.”

The 31-year-old Price missed Montreal’s final three games of 2018 with a lower-body injury (which also allowed him to spend extra time with his new baby girl and wife). Before that, he said he had been playing through the injury for seven weeks; so you can see why the Canadiens wanted him to not take any chances in the 3-on-3 tournament later this month.

[NHL reveals 2019 All-Star Game rosters]

Shea Weber is the Canadiens’ representative in the Last Men In vote, so if he misses out, and barring any injury replacements, the team will not have a player heading to San Jose for the event.

As the Metropolitan Division looks to name a replacement captain in Ovechkin’s absence, the Atlantic Division now needs another goaltender to join Jimmy Howard on the roster.

Who are the best options? The top three are Andrei Vasilevskiy, Carter Hutton and Jaroslav Halak. Frederik Andersen will be considered for his stellar first half, but he’s been dealing with a groin injury and the Toronto Maple Leafs would sure prefer him to avoid aggravating it in an event that isn’t kind to netminders.

The 2019 NHL All-Star Skills Competition will take place on Friday, Jan. 25 (9 p.m. ET, NBCSN) and the 2019 NHL All-Star Game will be on Saturday, Jan. 26 (8 p.m. ET, NBC).

MORE:
Backstrom, Kopitar, Laine, Skinner highlight NHL All-Star Last Men In vote
NHL announces 2019 All-Star game coaches

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Sean Leahy is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @Sean_Leahy.

Goalie nods: Leafs give Bibeau second career start

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Antoine Bibeau is hoping his second-ever NHL start will go better than the first.

Not that he played badly against the Avalanche on Dec. 11 — Bibeau stopped 26 of 28 shots, good for a .929 save percentage. But the Leafs lost that night, and Bibeau’s counterpart, Colorado netminder Seymon Varlamov, put forth a brilliant 51-save effort in the win.

Tonight, Bibeau will have a shot at his first career win in Tampa Bay, facing a Bolts team that rallied for a comeback OT win over Montreal last night. He should have a reasonable crack at the W — Toronto is surging right now, having won four of its last five, and currently boasts the NHL’s seventh-best offense.

For the Bolts, Andrei Vasilevskiy gets his second nod in as many nights, after stopping 22 shots in Wednesday’s win over the Habs.

Elsewhere…

— After making 40 saves in a win over Detroit on Tuesday, Robin Lehner is back in for Buffalo. No word yet on a Boston starter.

Keith Kinkaid gives the struggling Cory Schneider a night off in Washington. The Caps will go with Braden Holtby, who has played well of late despite losing three of his last four starts.

— Speaking of nights off, Carey Price and Roberto Luongo each get one in Florida. The Panthers are going with James Reimer, and the Habs are going with Al Montoya.

— The Wings will give Jared Coreau his third career start when they take on the Sens in Ottawa. Mike Condon is in the other net.

Sergei Bobrovsky and the red-hot Jackets are in Winnipeg tonight. Bobrovsky is looking for his 11th straight win and the Jackets are looking for their 13th in a row. For the Jets, Michael Hutchinson starts.

— Coming off a win against Washington on Tuesday, Jaroslav Halak is back in goal for the Isles, who visit Minnesota. No surprises from the Wild, who will continue to ride Devan Dubynk. Dubnyk is looking for his 10th win in a row.

Corey Crawford has played well in both of his games since returning from an appendectomy, but failed to register a win. He’ll look to change that in Nashville this evening. Looks as though the Preds are going with Pekka Rinne.

— Colorado is still without the services of Semyon Varlamov (groin), so Calvin Pickard starts again. He allowed six goals on 31 shots in his last outing against Calgary on Tuesday. Pickard will face Kari Lehtonen, who is playing well of late, allowing just four goals on his last 68 shots faced.

Chad Johnson is back in goal for the Flames, who had started Brian Elliott in three of the last four. He’ll be up against John Gibson.

— The Kings are on the second of a back-to-back, and played Peter Budaj in Vancouver last night. They’ve yet to announce a starter. Edmonton will start Cam Talbot for the 33rd time this year.

— Henrik Lunqvist is still out with illness, so Antti Raanta makes a second consecutive start for the Rangers. The Coyotes, as per usual, are going with veteran Mike Smith.

Now’s a good time to examine the goalie market

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Jonathan Quick is out with a groin injury — one that could be long-term — and that’s left Los Angeles with Jeff Zatkoff as its No. 1 goalie.

Mike Smith was hurt last night in Ottawa — the second straight year he’s picked up an injury — which has once again pushed Louis Domingue into Arizona’s starting role.

And with those two developments, the NHL’s goalie carousel is in full spin.

To be fair, the ride started this summer. There was confirmation of an expansion draft, followed by the Brian Elliott-to-Calgary trade at the draft, and all the rumors involving Ben Bishop and Marc-Andre Fleury.

Then the season started, and injuries hit.

Spin baby spin.

The calls for L.A. to bring in a goalie got louder last night as Zaktoff struggled, again, in a 6-3 loss to Minnesota. Whether it’s him in goal or Peter Budaj, neither seems like an adequate solution, especially for a Kings team with playoff aspirations.

Arizona’s not quite in a similar boat. The severity of Smith’s injury is still unknown, and the club has faith in Domingue, but it wouldn’t be surprising if the Coyotes contemplate some sort of move.

When Smith got hurt last year, then-GM Don Maloney said he was “willing to pay up an asset” to get a “top end goaltender” and while Maloney has since been replaced by John Chayka, a similar — but more tempered — strategy could be employed.

If Smith is badly hurt, the Coyotes might have to bring another guy in, though not necessarily someone to challenge for starts. Justin Peters and Marek Langhamer are the No. 3 and 4 goalies on the depth chart, and Chayka will probably want to avoid a repeat of last season, when the likes of Anders Lindback and Niklas Treutle tried, but failed, to stabilize the backup position behind Domingue.

So that’s the situation at hand.

Now… what’s out there?

For the purposes of keeping this realistic, let’s skip over Bishop and Fleury. Both would be insanely expensive acquisitions, and it’s tough to see either getting moved right now.

If you’re looking for a guy with plenty of No. 1 experience, you can call the Jets for Ondrej Pavelec or the Red Wings for Jimmy Howard. Of course, both acquisitions are tough to stomach because of their cap hits. OK, Howard is completely un-stomachable (not a word) while Pavelec is somewhat stomachable (still not a word) if the Jets retained salary.

But there’s a reason Pavelec’s currently in the American League. Two reasons, actually — a .907 career save percentage, and a .904 last season.

The Flyers have two potential No. 1 netminders, and affordable ones in Michal Neuvirth and Steve Mason (what’s more, both pending unrestricted free agents.) But if Flyers GM Ron Hextall is going to trade one of them, is he going to do it now?

As Brough wrote today: “Not for nothing, that’s for sure.”

Some look at Carolina and wonder if GM Ron Francis would move one of Cam Ward ($3.3 million through 2018) or Eddie Lack ($2.75 million).  But those same people also realize Ward has value this summer, when the ‘Canes will be forced to expose a goalie in the expansion draft.

The Islanders have a three-goalie situation right now with Jaroslav Halak, Thomas Greiss and J-F Berube. But GM Garth Snow was comfortable rolling with it last year, and this year appears no different.

The ideal solution for teams looking for goalie help, of course, is to do what Minnesota did a couple of seasons ago — find a potential reclamation project on the cheap, like Devan Dubnyk, and cross your fingers.

Problem is, not many current candidates fit the mold. Pittsburgh’s Mike Condon has had some success at the NHL level, and will likely come available when Matt Murray returns from his hand injury, but let’s be honest — Condon’s a reach.

Darcy Kuemper is interesting, and sitting behind Dubnyk in Minnesota. But GM Chuck Fletcher is probably content with his goalie situation, and therefore would feel no need to mess with it (unless the price was right).

Whatever the case, this market is something to watch in the coming days and weeks.

Islanders need one of their goalies to step up if they want to be serious contenders

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This is part of New York Islanders Day on PHT…

The New York Islanders were one of the few teams that kept three goalies on their roster last season. Thomas Greiss started the majority of the games because Jaroslav Halak was injured for a good chunk of the regular season.

Once the playoffs rolled around, Greiss became the team’s starting goaltender again, but only because Halak was sidelined with a groin injury.

Greiss ended up giving the Islanders some solid goaltending in their opening round series against the Panthers, as he gave up two goals or less in four of the six games. Things got a little more difficult in the second round when the Isles were eliminated by the Bolts in five games.

Overall, Greiss’ playoffs were a success. The question is, can he carry the load for an entire season?

It’s hard to say which goalie has a leg up in the race to be number one, but it’s clear that one of these two netminders will have to take the job and run with it in order for the Islanders to be a serious contender in the East.

Halak is signed for two more seasons at a cap hit of $4.5 million, while Greiss has one year remaining on his contract at $1.5 million. Don’t forget, the Islanders also have J-F Berube under contract in 2016-17.

As Halak pointed out in May, this is far from an ideal situation.

“It’s not ideal,” Halak said of the Islanders’ goalie situation, per the New York Post. “I’ve tried to tell [management], and this is not up to me.

“I like it here, but they just have to decide which way they want to go for next season. J-F is a young goalie, Greisser played well all season long. So we’ll see.”

As of right now, nothing’s changed in the Islanders’ crease since those comments were made. Halak has to realize that his inability to stay healthy is one of the main reasons why GM Garth Snow feels the need to keep three goalies around.

The Islanders did what they could this off-season, but it’s hard to think that they made their team better. Gone are Kyle Okposo, Frans Nielsen and Matt Martin and in come Andrew Ladd, Jason Chimera and P.A. Parenteau.

One of the ways New York can overcome the losses of Okposo and Nielsen in particular is if one of these three goalies can step up steal more games.