John Gibson

Net gains: NHL’s load management is top goalies playing less

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Marc-Andre Fleury plays when he’s told.

How much he plays has changed.

A decade ago, Fleury started 61 out of 82 games before backstopping Pittsburgh to the Stanley Cup. He started 58 and 34 times on the Penguins’ 2016 and 2017 Cup runs splitting time with Matt Murray, then made 46 starts for Vegas and led the expansion Golden Knights to the final.

“As a player, I love being in there. I love playing the game,” Fleury said. “It’s tough to find like the perfect amount of games. Nowadays, I feel like we’re hearing more than ever how we’re going to manage two goalies and stuff.”

Consider it hockey’s version of “load management” that’s gained popularity in basketball. Don’t expect NHL teams to handpick games throughout the season to rest star players – except top goaltenders who are getting more nights off while their backups share the net with an eye toward playoff success.

Each of the past five Cup-winning goalies started fewer than 60 games in the regular season, along with three of the past five runners up. The days of Martin Brodeur starting 78 games are gone – only three goalies have 70-plus starts over the past five seasons – and teams think year-round about how to best prepare to play deep into June.

“The trend is definitely going the way that you split the net more,” said Boston goaltender Tuukka Rask, who carried the Bruins to Game 7 of the final last year after starting 46 times in the regular season. “It’s a tough thing because if your starter makes $8-9 million, you want him to play. But then you want to win the Cup, so you’ve got to think of it like, well, if this guy plays 70 games, is he going to play 25 in the playoffs at the same level? Versus OK we’re playing him 45, 50 really good games and then we got the other guy and the A guy’s going to play 25 really good (playoff games).”

Rask and Jaroslav Halak, Washington’s Braden Holtby and Philipp Grubauer in 2018 and Pittsburgh’s Murray and Fleury the previous two years are prime examples. Jordan Binnington didn’t make his first NHL start until January, but 32 games of work made him fresh to help the St. Louis Blues win the Cup last season.

It’s a delicate balance of having enough salary cap space to employ two capable goalies with playing time, plotting out the schedule for maximum rest benefits and collecting enough points to make the playoffs.

“It’s a collaborative discussion that all teams have,” Vegas general manager Kelly McCrimmon said. “What we’re doing is trying to win hockey games during the regular season, trying to keep both of our goalies sharp and trying to have all our players at the top of their game come playoffs.”

The New York Islanders have alternated Thomas Greiss and Semyon Varlamov for their first 24 games and allow the fourth-fewest goals in the league. Anaheim’s coaching staff pencils in both John Gibson or Ryan Miller for all 82 games and revisits incrementally to adjust for injuries and workloads.

“It has very little to do with games,” Ducks coach Dallas Eakins said. “It has more to do with how much work. We had a game earlier this year where we were overwhelmed in the game against Vegas. I think they put up 50 shots, and we were in our zone the whole time. That went down as one game for John, but he really played two, so that’s kind of how we look at it.”

Miller previously preferred to skip a game with a couple days off on each end for a mental break. He sees so many teams splitting back-to-backs and understands it but also thinks battling some old-school fatigue can be good for a goaltender.

“I don’t think there’s a strict recipe,” said Miller, whose career high was 74 starts in 2007-08 with Buffalo. “I think some adversity is good to keep your mentality in the right place. It’s not going to be a cake walk and then playoffs hit and it’s like (you’re) dialed in. You’ve got to go through some stuff and work through it and battle through the harder situations so that’s just your mindset every night.”

NHL goalies believe modern games are more difficult with higher shot totals than past decades. Teams are averaging 30 shots a game in 2019-20, while the schedule has more back-to-backs.

“Nowadays there’s a lot more work for a goalie: a lot less hooking and holding up for the D-men, so there’s a lot more chances or a lot more in-zone time that you’re actually working,” said Philadelphia’s Brian Elliott, who’s part of a successful tandem with Carter Hart. “Even if you’re maybe not getting shots, you’re looking through screens, you’re doing a lot of work.”

Vegas coach Gerard Gallant appreciates Fleury wants to play all 82 games, and he’s not alone in wanting to grab the net and not let go.

“I’ve felt a lot better every year I played a lot more games,” said Holtby, who led the league with 73 games played in 2014-15. “It’s a little more of a feel game instead of an analytics game just because of the speed of it. … It’s one of those things everyone’s probably different. It probably has a lot to do with how you practice and everything.”

Some goalies are going to play more than others; Florida’s $10 million man, Sergei Bobrovsky, or Montreal’s Carey Price, the highest-paid goalie in the league, could start 60 or more just because his team needs an elite level of play.

“We’d love to have (Price) in every game, but it’s not realistic,” Canadiens coach Claude Julien said. “We give him some days off of practices because that’s not quite as important as him in games.”

The most important thing, of course, is the playoffs. It’s tough for starters who want to play all the time and it takes an adjustment, but the proof is in the names on the Stanley Cup that splitting the net works.

“Everybody wants to play,” Rask said. “The older you get, I think it becomes a little easier to realize that it’s not about me. I’m resting for the team.”

And resting with the hope that shouldering less of a load now makes a goalie more likely to raise a trophy over his shoulders at the end of the season.

The Buzzer: Ducks spoil Islanders’ streak; Stars keep shining

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Islanders’ streak over at 17 games

Perhaps it’s fitting that the Islanders’ 17-game point streak ended against one of the few teams that boasts goaltending comparable to the Isles’ own, especially when John Gibson is in net. The Ducks gave the Islanders their first regulation loss since Oct. 11, blanking Barry Trotz’s bunch 3-0 on Monday.

That wasn’t the only “your own medicine” element of this loss for the Islanders, either. The Ducks allowed quite a few more chances, but did a decent job of controlling the quality while losing the quantity battle. Gibson ultimately only needed 26 saves for that shutout, while Ryan Getzlaf and Cam Fowler led the way with a goal and an assist each. Anders Lee has been great during this run, but Monday wasn’t his night, as he was on the ice for all three of the Ducks’ goals.

Three Stars

1. Alexander Radulov, Dallas Stars

The Stars have been almost as hot as the Islanders lately, and while Radulov (2G, 1A) and John Klingberg (3A) have been relatively quiet during Dallas’ tear, they made the big difference against the troubled-but-still-dangerous Golden Knights on Monday.

The Stars are now on a seven-game winning streak, have gone 9-0-1 in their last 10 games, are now 14-1-1 in their last 16 games after beginning the season on a 1-7-1 whimper.

Radulov bookended that win against Vegas with two power-play goals, and also assisted on Jason Dickinson‘s game-winner. It wasn’t as if the Stars’ usual top guns were totally absent (Tyler Seguin collected two assists), yet this win serves as a sobering reminder to opponents that Dallas can beat you in more ways than even the 2018-19 Stars could.

2. Ondrej Palat, Tampa Bay Lightning

The Sabres managed a 2-1 lead at some point, and it seemed like Buffalo and the Bolts would have themselves a tightly matched game. The third period kind of ended that, as the Lightning strengthened what became a 3-2 lead with two shorthanded goals. The second was scored by Palat, who ended Monday with two primary assists and the 5-2 shorthanded tally.

Palat’s now on a nice little mini-hot streak, generating points in three consecutive games (two goals, three assists for five of his 15 points this season).

The Lightning are now on a three-game winning streak and seem to have found their legs with a 7-3-0 mark in their last 10 games.

3. Artemi Panarin, New York Rangers

Is it Artemi, as I’ve been accustomed to spelling it (and the Rangers’ website spells it that way), or Artemiy Panarin, as it seems to be on the star player’s Twitter page?

I feel about as confounded as most defenders do against the absolutely slick winger, who collected assists on all three of the Rangers’ goals in a 3-2 OT win against the Wild. Seeing Mats Zuccarello‘s tribute video was probably super emotional for many Rangers, but not Panarin, who was one of actually quite a few new guys who never shared a Rangers locker room with the Norwegian wizard.

Panarin now has 30 points through his first 22 games with the Rangers, including five (1G, 4A) during his past two.

Highlights

I’m partial to this fantastic move by Ryan Donato against the Rangers, although Donato’s Wild ultimately fell short:

Factoids

Scores

TBL 5 – BUF 2
NYR 3 – MIN 2 (OT)
PHI 2 – VAN 1
PIT 3 – CGY 2 (OT)
CBJ 1 – OTT 0
NSH 3 – STL 2 (SO)
DAL 4 – VGK 2
ANA 3 – NYI 0
SJS 4 – ANA 3 (OT)

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

PHT Morning Skate: Not time to fire Babcock; Who are elite goalies?

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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 phtblog@nbcsports.com.
• It’s not time for the Leafs to fire Mike Babcock, but they should look at moving William Nylander. (Toronto Star)

• Who are the elite, good and replaceable goalies in the NHL? (Pension Plan Puppets)

• Teammates and rivals share their stories about Hall-of-Famer Hayley Wickenheiser. (Sportsnet)

• Canadiens rookies Nick Suzuki and Cale Fleury have improved every game. (Habs Eyes on the Prize)

• Find out how the Washington Capitals have looked through 20 games. (Russian Machine Never Breaks)

• What’s wrong with Sergei Bobrovsky? (The Rat Trick)

• Jim Rutherford put the final touches on his Hall-of-Fame career by fixing the Penguins. (Pensburgh)

Robby Fabbri has given the Red Wings’ second line a spark. (MLive.com)

• The Golden Knights have had a different start to the season than they did one year ago. (Sinbin.Vegas)

• How much has Patrik Laine really improved this season? (Arctic Ice Hockey)

Martin Jones has been key during San Jose’s six-game winning streak. (NBC Sports Bay Area)

• Stars head coach Jim Montgomery was once traded for Guy Carbonneau. (Dallas Morning News)

Jason Zucker is struggling to find the back of the net. (Hockey Wilderness)

• Here are five players that are providing the least amount of value right now. (The Hockey News)

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

The Buzzer: Hellebuyck earns his bucks; MacKinnon, Isles stay hot

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Three Stars

1. Connor Hellebuyck, Winnipeg Jets

The Jets’ early struggles have kept Hellebuyck’s strong start under the radar (for the most part), but an Oct. 29 showing against the Ducks wasn’t so great, as Hellebuyck allowed five goals on only 19 shots on goal in about a half-game’s worth of action. Hellebuyck made up for that in a big way against Anaheim’s neighbors in San Jose.

The Sharks managed a commanding 53-19(!) SOG advantage on Friday, but they didn’t even get a pity point for their considerable efforts. Hellebuyck basically had a night’s work in the second period alone, allowing just one goal despite a 28-SOG barrage by San Jose.

Hellebuyck ended up making 51 out of 53 stops, so chances are, his strong work is now noticed … if the Sharks, if by no one else.

2. John Gibson, Anaheim Ducks

Goalies had a tendency to steal games involving California-based teams on Friday.

Despite the Canucks generated a 19-5 SOG advantage through the first period, the Ducks ended the first 20 minutes up 1-0 thanks to a Jakob Silfverberg shorthanded goal. Vancouver went on to generate a 40-29 SOG advantage overall, yet the Ducks won in overtime thanks to all-world goaltending by their all-world goalie.

Perhaps the Ducks are playing a little better under Dallas Eakins as they didn’t under Randy Carlyle, but this team still depends on Gibson as much as just about any NHL team leans on a goalie these days.

3. Sebastian Aho, Carolina Hurricanes

Feel free to replace Aho with one of Friday’s other three-point players, if you’d prefer.

You may, for example, be more impressed with Tom Wilson‘s ferocious hit, nifty deflection goal, and overall night (1G, 2A). Wilson’s teammate Michal Kempny made a fantastic keep-in to help set up that deflection goal, and finished the night with three points (all assists) of his own. Anders Lee also managed one goal and two assists, helping the Islanders push their league-leading winning streak to a resounding eight games. And so on.

When in doubt — and there’s usually doubt in such an exciting, skilled league, especially on busy nights — I tend to go with goals over assists, and so one. Two of Aho’s three points were goals, and his assist was a primary one.

It also rarely feels like a bad time to mention Aho, who deserves more mentions as one of the NHL’s great stars.

Highlight of the Night

Since we already covered Sean Couturier pulling “The Forsberg,” enjoy this great overtime goal by the Ducks. Troy Terry makes a highly impressive long-distance bomb of a pass, then Ryan Getzlaf manages to settle it down, avoid an aggressive pokecheck attempt from Jacob Markstrom, and steal that stolen win for the Quack Pack:

Markstrom’s earlier glove save could be an honorable mention.

Bullet dodged?

The early word is that Canucks rookie Quinn Hughes isn’t too badly hurt after this scary-looking tweak. Here’s hoping that early word is accurate, because yikes:

Factoids

  • Speaking of Aho, Nathan MacKinnon is apparently just a little bit hotter to start 2019-20 than Aho was to begin 2018-19:

 

Scores

PHI 4 – NJD 3 (SO)
NYI 5 – TBL 2
WSH 6 – BUF 1
CAR 7 – DET 3
STL 4 – CBJ 3 (OT)
DAL 2 – COL 1
ANA 2 – VAN 1 (OT)
WPG 3 – SJS 2

MORE:
• Pro Hockey Talk’s Stanley Cup picks.
• Your 2019-20 NHL on NBC TV schedule

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

Injuries keep mounting for Ducks

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Even though they picked up a big 7-4 win over the Winnipeg Jets on Tuesday night the Anaheim Ducks have been in a little bit of a funk over the past couple of weeks, losing four of their past six games.

Adding to the struggles is the fact the injury list is starting to grow a bit.

The team was already playing without forward Ondrej Kase and defender Hampus Lindholm, and on Wednesday general manager Bob Murray announced that another one of their top defenders, Josh Manson, is going to be sidelined for the next 5-10 weeks due to an MCL sprain.

Murray also added updates on Kase (jaw injury) and Lindholm (lower-body) saying that both will remain out of the lineup on a day-to-day basis.

Lindholm skated on Wednesday and is expected to be a full participant in practice on Thursday.

None of the three played in Tuesday’s win against the Jets, and while it seems likely that Kase and Lindholm will be back soon, the news on Manson is obviously a lot more dire. He was injured in the Ducks’ 2-1 loss to the Stars this past week and exited after playing just five minutes.

The Ducks did just acquire Erik Gudbranson from the Pittsburgh Penguins and he will no doubt get some additional minutes and a larger role as long as Manson and Lindholm are sidelined.

They also have one of the league’s best goaltending duos in John Gibson and Ryan Miller to lean on.

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