Whether it’s jockeying for position in the playoff picture or just trying to make the playoffs, a number of teams will have to think about how much their starting goalies should play down the stretch. Some teams can afford to lean on their back-ups and others might not have that luxury, even if it means risking a tired starter for the playoffs. We break down which teams are best positioned to lean on their back-ups and which don’t have that luxury.
What’s on the line: Pittsburgh battling it out with Carolina, Montreal, and Columbus for the top wildcard spot or the, excluding Montreal, third spot in the Metropolitan division. One of those four teams won’t make playoffs and another one gets Tampa Bay in the first round. Neither situation is ideal so the Penguins have to be shooting for that third spot or second wildcard.
Starter Workload: Matt Murray has played 2,004:45 this season, the 27th most minutes of any goalie.
Save %: .914 (T-22nd)
HD Save %: .845 (29th)
GSAA: -0.22 (33rd)
Conclusion: DeSmith has already proven he can fill in nicely throughout Murray’s injuries this year. He ranks top-35 in all of our three, key goaltending stats and has played the 31st most minutes out of any goalie this season. DeSmith has The Penguins should continue to try and get DeSmith a good portion of games so that Murray can be fully healthy going into the playoffs. He’s saved his team an average of almost one extra goal every 5 games played, relative to league average goaltending, which ranks 33rd overall.
What’s on the line: The Canadiens are in a four-way battle for the last two wildcard spots. Luckily for them, one of the other three teams will also finish in the top-3 in the Metropolitan division so it’s really a three-way race. The optimal finish for them would be to finish in the first wildcard spot to avoid having to play Tampa Bay.
Starter Workload: Carey Price has played 3,104:52 this season, the 3rd most minutes of any goalie.
Save %: .889 (67th)
HD Save %: .787 (68th)
GSAA: 0.58 (69th)
Conclusion: Niemi has arguably been the worst goalie in the NHL this season. He ranks bottom-3 of all qualified goalies in our three, key goaltending stats including letting in an average of an extra half-goal per game, relative to league average goaltending, which ranks last overall. Price is Montreal’s horse and if they want to make it out of the first round they need him at the top of his game. Niemi hasn’t given them good enough goaltending for them to feel confident at all in giving him any starts down the stretch.
What’s on the line: The Maple Leafs are firmly entrenched in the top-3 of the Atlantic division and only have home ice in the first round to play for at this point. It’s almost guaranteed that they play the Bruins in the first round for the second year in a row. After losing game-7 in Boston last year, taking home ice advantage could be the advantage they need to change their fortunes this year.
Starter Workload: Frederik Andersen has played 2,917:20 this season, the 7th most minutes of any goalie.
Save %: .902 (T-46th)
HD Save %: .845 (28th)
GSAA: 0.25 (61st)
Conclusion: Sparks has some very interesting numbers this year. He’s top-30 in high-danger save percentage but then drops down to 46th in overall save percentage. Essentially that means he’s giving up a lot of low-danger shots which is exactly what you don’t want from your goalie. He’s let in an average of one extra goal every four games played, relative to league average goaltending, which ranks 61st overall. The Leafs need Andersen at the top of his game to get past Boston so getting him some rest is optimal as they go down the stretch but Sparks isn’t giving them the confidence to do so.
What’s on the line: The Blue Jackets went all-in at the Trade Deadline and so far it hasn’t worked out. They still only sit two points outside the last wildcard spot in the East, with a game in hand. Columbus decided it would attempt to make it out of the first round of the playoffs for the first time in franchise history and their best option to do so is by taking over the third spot in the Metropolitan division.
Starter Workload: Sergei Bobrovsky has played 2,859:53 this season, the 8th most minutes of any goalie.
Save %: .897 (T-53rd)
HD Save %: .812 (62nd)
GSAA: 0.14 (56th)
Conclusion: Bobrovsky’s started to regain his Vezina form lately but he’s still going to need some rest down the stretch if Columbus wants to have a shot at making it out of the first round. Korpisalo’s been a mid to below-average backup this year, ranking at best 53rd in our three, key goaltending stats. He’s let in an average of almost one extra goal every seven games played, relative to league average goaltending, which ranks 56th overall. They also acquired Keith Kinkaid at the deadline but he’s only backed up one game for them at this point and his numbers are in fact worse than Korpisalo’s.
What’s on the line: The Capitals are almost guaranteed to play Columbus, Montreal, Pittsburgh or Carolina in the first round this year. For Washington, it’s all about home ice advantage in the second round. They’re currently first in the Metropolitan but the Islanders are right behind them and haven’t had any quit in them this season.
Starter Workload: Braden Holtby has played 22,751:24 this season, the 9th most minutes of any goalie.
Save %: .901 (T-49th)
HD Save %: .830 (45th)
GSAA: 0.16 (57th)
Conclusion: Holtby started as the backup last year but almost immediately took back his starting job and led the Capitals to a Stanley Cup. To repeat, they’re going to need Holtby at his best just like last season. Copley has given them pretty average backup goaltending this year ranking top-50 in both of our key save percentages. The cause for concern is that he’s given up an average of almost one extra goal every six games played, relative to league average goaltending, which ranks 57th overall.
What’s on the line: The Predators are battling with the Jets for the top spot in the Central division which is huge. If the Preds win the division, they likely get either Dallas, Minnesota, Colorado or Arizona in the first round. If they drop to second in the Central, it will likely be St. Louis, one of the hottest teams in the league since the start of the New Year.
Starter Workload: Pekka Rinne has played 2,678:58 this season, the 11th most minutes of any goalie.
Save %: .916 (15th)
HD Save %: .846 (24th)
GSAA: -0.42 (20th)
Conclusion: Saros has played well above average for a back-up goaltender this season, ranking top-25 in the league in our three, key goaltending stats. The Preds are hoping for a long playoff run and they shouldn’t be worried about having Saros play meaningful games down the stretch. He’s saved his team an average of almost one extra goal every two games played, relative to league average goaltending, which ranks 20th overall.
What’s on the line: Just like the Predators, the Jets want that top spot in the Central division. Winning that division gives them a much easier first-round matchup and lets them most likely avoid St. Louis who is not only one the hottest teams in the league since the start of the New Year but also a very heavy team that can wear you down in a playoff series.
Starter Workload: Connor Hellebuyck has played 2,950:32 this season, the 5th most minutes of any goalie.
Save %: .927 (T-6th)
HD Save %: .893 (1st)
GSAA: -0.81 (2nd)
Conclusion: Brossoit has arguably been the best backup goalie in the league this year, ranking top-6 in the league in our three, key goaltending stats. The Jets should feel perfectly comfortable giving him bigger minutes as the season draws to a close. He’s saved his team an average of almost five extra goals every six games played, relative to league average goaltending, which ranks 2nd overall.
What’s on the line: The Wild currently own that last wildcard spot in the West but their position is nowhere near stable. They sit one point back of Dallas for the second wildcard spot and have both Colorado and Arizona nipping at their heels. Bruce Boudreau guaranteed a playoff spot this year and looks like he might pull it off but their first-round matchup, regardless of which wildcard spot they can grab, won’t be easy.
Starter Workload: Devan Dubnyk has played 3,184:17 this season, the 2nd most minutes of any goalie.
Save %: .896 (T-57th)
HD Save %: .810 (65th)
GSAA: 0.14 (56th)
Conclusion: Stalock has been a below-average backup this year ranking, at best, 56th out of 69 qualified goalies in our three, key goaltending stats. The Wild need to give Dubnyk some rest but will have to be careful with how they deploy Stalock as every win counts right now for them. Stalock has let in an average of almost one extra goal every seven games played, relative to league average goaltending, which ranks 56th overall.
What’s on the line: The Avalanche are sitting two points back of Minnesota for the last wildcard spot in the West so they’re right in the mix. Colorado is a team that looks like it could be very close to being a true competitor in a few years so getting their young guns some playoff experience would be valuable.
Starter Workload: Semyon Varlamov has played 2,610:09 this season, the 12th most minutes of any goalie.
Save %: .897 (T-53rd)
HD Save %: .820 (54th)
GSAA: 0.08 (51st)
Conclusion: Grubauer has been a slightly below average backup this year, ranking right around the low-50s in our three, key goaltending stats. Last season the Capitals began playoffs with Grubauer as their starter so when the Avalanche traded for him this year they were hoping he might be able to be a perfect compliment to Varlamov. His play has been pretty suspect this year and will make it hard for Colorado to rest Varlamov if he can’t find the magic he had last season. Relative to league average goaltending, Grubauer’s been just worse than average, giving up 0.08 goals per game, relative to league average goaltending, which ranks 51st overall.
What’s on the line: The Sharks are firmly set in the top-3 of the Pacific division and three points back of the Flames with a game in hand. If the Sharks win the division, they get one of either Dallas, Minnesota, Colorado or Arizona in the first round. In second, they’re almost guaranteed to play Vegas which would be a really tough first-round matchup.
Starter Workload: Martin Jones has played 2,929:08 this season, the 6th most minutes of any goalie.
Save %: .892 (T-63rd)
HD Save %: .799 (66th)
GSAA: 0.20 (59th)
Conclusion: Jones hasn’t been having the best season this year and Dell hasn’t been any better. Whether it be Jones or Dell in the net right now the Sharks need to get their goaltending figured out. Dell is ranked bottom-10 in all our three, key goaltending stats. The Sharks have bigger things to worry about than just how to rest Jones but maybe giving Dell a few extra games will give Jones the time to get his game back. Dell has let in an average of one extra goal every five games played, relative to league average goaltending, which ranks 59th overall.
What’s on the line: The Stars are in one of the most lose-lose situations possible. If they finish in either wildcard spots they get a really tough first-round matchup with Nashville, Winnipeg, Calgary or San Jose. If they catch St. Louis they get one of Nashville or Winnipeg. Those are some pretty dominant teams to take on in the first round which just gives them more reason to make sure Ben Bishop is ready to go.
Starter Workload: Ben Bishop has played 2,218:58 this season, the 21st most minutes of any goalie.
Save %: .922 (T-13th)
HD Save %: .854 (19th)
GSAA: -0.45 (15th)
Conclusion: When healthy this year, Bishop has given the Stars some really good goaltending and Khudobin has been stellar as well any time he’s had to step in. Khudobin ranks top-20 in all of our three, key goaltending stats. Dallas should be looking to give Bishop as much rest as possible to make sure he’s fully healthy and Khudobin’s proven he’s more than capable of playing big minutes for them. He’s saved his team an average of almost half of an extra goal every game played, relative to league average goaltending, which ranks 15th overall.
(Photo by Jonathan Kozub/NHLI via Getty Images)