By: Jeremy Perrigo
A starting goaltender is frequently the hardest player to find in the NHL, and teams who find themselves with a skilled No. 1 netminder have the potential to make deep playoff runs, even if they lack an all-star scorer. Teams that have two strong goaltenders maximize their potential to have success throughout the duration of the regular season, and are best-equipped to handle inevitable lulls in play that come with an 82-game campaign.
Starting goalies tend to get most of the credit for their team’s success on the back end, as they are usually called upon to play an average of 55-65 games a season. However, those who do not always get the recognition they deserve, are backup goaltenders, who are responsible for stepping in for their team periodically, whether it be during back-to-back game situations, or for longer durations of time when their first-in-command is either injured or not playing as expected.
The 2017-18 season is not yet halfway over, however, there have already been multiple teams that have had to rely heavily on two or three or five (in the case of the Vegas Golden Knights) goaltenders take the reins at any given moment.
The following is an overview of five different goaltending duos that have played remarkably well throughout the first three months of the season, creating a case for why each of them should be considered the best combo in the league.
Marc-Andre Fleury/Malcolm Subban
The Vegas Golden Knights have been a pleasant surprise for the league in the first 32 games of their inaugural season. Posting a record of 21-9-2 for 44 points and a place atop the Pacific Division, they have defied odds, and despite injuries to three goaltenders, have continued to be a competitive team since the first time they hit the ice back on October 6th.
Marc-Andre Fleury started the first four games of the year before suffering a concussion on October 13th against the Detroit Red Wings that would sideline the former Pittsburgh Penguin netminder for nearly two months. Although Fleury has only played in six games this year, he has a record of 4-1-1 with a goals against average (GAA) of 2.13 and save percentage (Sv%) of .934. This may be a small sample size, but with three Stanley Cups and an overall record of 379-217-67, no one is questioning Fleury’s pedigree.
Second-in-command for the Vegas Golden Knights is 23 year-old Malcolm Subban, younger brother of Nashville Predators’ defenseman P.K. Subban. Subban was put on waivers by the Boston Bruins at the start of the year, and was subsequently picked up by Vegas heading into the season. With two less-than-appealing starts in the NHL previous to the 2017-18 season, it was unclear if Subban had what it took to become a regular in the league. However, Subban is beginning to silence his critics with every game he plays, posting a record of 8-2-0 for the Golden Knights with a GAA of 2.30 and Sv% of .922.
Credit should be given as well to Oscar Dansk, Maxime Lagace and Dylan Ferguson who have also spent time between the pipes for Vegas this season. Dansk had to step in when Subban suffered a lower-body injury. Shortly after, Dansk went down with a lower body injury himself after starting and winning three games, posting a GAA of 1.78 and Sv% of .946. Maxime Lagace followed up with a record of 6-6-1, GAA of 3.79 and Sv% of .872, before Subban was able to return to action.
Pekka Rinne/Juuse Saros
The Nashville Predators were the feel-good story of the National Hockey League last season when they entered the 2016-17 playoffs the 16th seed, knocking off the Chicago Blackhawks, St. Louis Blues and Anaheim Ducks before falling to the Pittsburgh Penguins in the Stanley Cup Final in six games.
Pekka Rinne recorded an impressive GAA of 1.96 and Sv% of .930 over 22 games in net during that postseason run. Rinne has seemingly picked up right where he left off last year, boasting a record of 18-4-3 with a GAA of 2.25 and Sv% of .930 in the 2017-18 season, a run that includes three shutouts.
Predators’ backup goaltender Juuse Saros has been used sparingly to this point in the season, but has provided solid relief for his fellow Finnish countryman, with a record of 3-3-1 a GAA of 2.94 and Sv% of .911. He most recently posted a 46-save shutout in a 4-0 routing of the Edmonton Oilers.
Martin Jones/Aaron Dell
The San Jose Sharks fell victim to a disappointing first-round exit in the 2017 playoffs after making it all the way to the Stanley Cup Final in 2016. However, the team has seen notable improvement in net since the arrival of Martin Jones at the beginning of the 2015-2016 season in a three-way deal that saw the Vancouver native bounce from Los Angeles to Boston before finally landing in the Bay Area.
Jones is off to a solid start in the 2017-18 campaign, posting a record of 11-7-3 with a GAA of 2.55 and Sv% of .914. He is backed-up by 28 year-old Aaron Dell, who by all accounts has had an incredible start to the season, with a record of 6-3-1 and a sub-two GAA of 1.75 and Sv% of .939. He leads the league in both categories and has two shutouts, along with Jones. The duo has helped their team to third place in the Pacific Division.
John Gibson/Ryan Miller
The Anaheim Ducks have had a rather unimpressive start to the 2017-18 season, putting up a record of 14-11-8 for fifth-to-last in the Western Conference. The Ducks have been atop the league in man-games missed due to injury. Stud defenseman Cam Fowler missed a month of play from Oct. 20 to Nov. 20, and star forward Ryan Getzlaf only recently returned to the lineup after taking a puck to the eye against the Carolina Hurricanes on October 29th. The team is still currently without other top players Corey Perry, Ryan Kesler and Patrick Eaves.
Despite these injuries, the Anaheim goaltending tandem of John Gibson and Ryan Miller has been strong. While Gibson has a mediocre record of 10-10-4, he has recorded a GAA of 2.84 and Sv% of .921. Many of the big saves Gibson makes on a game-to-game basis don’t show up in the statistics.
Contrary to Gibson, Miller’s stats show more of a story. The former Vancouver/Buffalo netminder has yet to lose in regulation this season, posting a record of 3-0-4 along with a GAA of 1.73 and Sv% of .945. If the Ducks manage to get healthy this year, they will likely be able to rely on strong goaltending to help the team piece together wins.
Jake Allen/Carter Hutton
The St. Louis Blues are tied for third in the league in points with a record of 22-11-2, and stopping pucks has been a huge part of the team’s success. Starting goaltender Jake Allen has an impressive 17-9-2 record with a GAA of 2.59 and Sv% of .911 coming off a year that saw him lead his team to the Western Conference Semifinals with a GAA of 1.96 and Sv% of .935 before losing to Nashville in six games.
Behind Allen is Thunder Bay, Ontario native Carter Hutton, who in seven starts this season has a record of 5-2, recording a remarkable GAA of 1.63 and Sv% of .949. Hutton’s most recent win came in a 48-save 2-0 shutout win over the Winnipeg Jets. The Blues, like most top teams, depend on strong goaltending in order to have a successful season, and thus far Allen and Hutton have been a strong combination.
With still more than half the season remaining there is the potential for other goaltending duos to emerge. The NHL season is long and taxing, and teams are constantly fighting through injuries and other setbacks in an attempt to play for the Stanley Cup come April. For the teams mentioned above, they have the comfort of knowing that if one of their goaltenders goes down to injury, they have a strong No. 2 ready to step in and play.
Feel free to leave any comments in the section below, I am interested to see which duos readers think have performed the best so far in this season.