When the Phoenix Coyotes goaltender Mike Smith went down after a collision with the Chicago Blackhawks' Andrew Shaw, it appeared Phoenix's playoff hopes would fall with him. Smith has been such a large part of the Coyotes' success this season (although, to be fair, Phoenix's defensive system has been equally vital to Smith's improvement, so it's a little bit of a chicken-or-egg thing) that to lose him seemed like notably bad news.
He ended up being OK, though (to the great irritation of Blackhawks fans, who saw Shaw suspended three games based partially on what they felt to be a trumped-up injury to the goalie), and no one ever had to find out what Jason LaBarbera, the backup netminder, would have had to offer. But for seven other playoff teams, backups have had to bounce up off the bench. Here, we rank their performances, from worst to first.
I can't say for certain, but there's a pretty good chance that the New York Rangers' John Mitchell was haunted by some fever dreams last night: Think something along the lines of Elephants on Parade, except with the Cheshire grin of Marc-Andre Fleury in place of all the Dumbo heads.
Fleury was in net Thursday night as the Penguins came to Madison Square Garden to take on the Rangers, who held a six-point lead over Pittsburgh in the Atlantic Division (and the Eastern Conference). By the end of the night, though, that gap had narrowed to four, as the Penguins defeated New York 5-2 based in large part on the play in net by the goaltender colloquially known to teammates as Flower. He stopped 29 of the Rangers' shots, five of which belonged to poor Mitchell, who was robbed every which way by the 27-year-old netminder. After one sequence in which Fleury, already down on his side after making some pad saves, managed to glove an attempt by Mitchell, the Rangers forward couldn't help but take out his mouth guard so he could laugh.
The first star of Sunday's OHL game between the Erie Otters and the Niagara IceDogs was a goaltender who allowed 13 goals on 45 shots in a 13-4 loss.
Of course, he was also wearing skates that were far too small, a jersey that had been hastily assembled just days before, and goalie pads the likes of which he hadn't put on since he was 5 years old. Not to mention that, because of shoulder surgery, he hadn't played in a single game — even at center, his typical position — all season long.
The Ottawa Senators reserve goaltender Robin Lehner sure picked a good time for his first career shutout: two days after the Senators traded for St. Louis's highly touted netminder Ben Bishop. A little competition never hurt anyone! The trade took place after Senators starting goalie Craig Andersonsliced his finger badly enough to preclude him from playing; Lehner was also called up from the AHL's Binghamton that day and made 28 saves in a 5-2 victory over the Islanders.
It was on Tuesday, though, that the fiery 20-year-old — who became the youngest Swedish goalie to play in the NHL last season when he debuted just two months after turning 19 — really made his mark. Lehner stopped all 32 shots that came his way for the 1-0 shutout victory in Boston, where he was named the game's first star. (Bishop, who was assigned to Binghamton, picked up first-star honors for the AHL affiliate the same night.)
It will be interesting to see what unfolds between Lehner and Bishop. Last season, Lehner helped lead the Binghamton Senators to the AHL's Calder Cup and was named MVP of the playoffs; this year, Bishop has been the AHL's top regular-season netminder for the Peoria Rivermen and was even named the MVP of the All-Star Game.
Earlier this week, Toronto Maple Leafs GM Brian Burke was adamant that he was not in the market for someone to supplement and/or replace Jonas Gustavsson and James Reimer in net. "We are not looking for a goaltender at this point," he said in an e-mail to The Globe and Mail.
That was before Gustavsson turned in a clunker of a performance Tuesday night. The Leafs, who are on the playoff bubble, lost to the New Jersey Devils 4-3 in overtime as Gustavsson was weak on the five-hole in regulation and unfortunate with his positioning on the overtime goal, which was headed wide but caromed off his equipment and into the net to erase what had been a late comeback by Toronto.
On Wednesday, Burke changed his tune on TSN Radio. "It's very hard to watch what happened and not wonder if we have enough [in net]," he said, before deploying the tried-and-true double negative: "I'm not sure that we're not going to be in the market [for a goalie] before we're done," he said. "The fact is we're losing games because we're not stopping the puck enough."
It's a tough time for goalies in Toronto, though I did enjoy the way this Toronto Sun headline sought to put a positive spin on whether Burke's words might affect his netminders' performance going forward: "Goalies already felt lowly."
With Toronto one of the teams that might be in the market at the deadline for a goalie, who would potentially be available? Here's a look at some of the names that have been floated as being goalies in play (not just for Toronto, but to other teams who may be seeking help in net) leading up to Monday's trade deadline:
This week got off to quite a start for 22-year-old Washington Capitals goaltending prospect Braden Holtby. After making 34 saves for the AHL's Hershey Bears on Sunday in their 5-1 win over Wilkes-Barre Scranton, Holtby woke up Monday morning to find out that he was being summoned to Washington, presumably because the Caps no. 1 goalie Tomas Vokoun had the flu and they needed someone to back up Michal Neuvirth. Instead, when Holtby arrived around 2 p.m., he found out he was starting that night.
As the days tick down until the NHL trade deadline, these sorts of things can happen. Perhaps this was a showcase game for Holtby to let scouts take a look, or maybe the Caps organization wanted to see how they'd fare if they dealt another netminder and ended up having to use more of Holtby going forward.
Whatever it was, it did not end well: Holtby was in net for a 5-3 loss against the San Jose Sharks, a game in which the reality was somehow actually worse than the score. He bobbled a routine grab on a shot from beyond center ice, and he watched as a puck rolled up his arm, down his back, and into the goalmouth behind him. Tuesday morning he was sent back up to Hershey, back down to the AHL.
In HBO's 24/7 series on the Rangers-Flyers Winter Classic, there was one interaction between a player and an official that made it pretty clear how certain things go down. After the Flyers' Max Talbot gets whistled for not having done much in particular and expresses his displeasure to the ref, he gets a candid response: "I told you you were gonna get one, Max." Later, he clarifies: "That was a bad call, but sometimes you accumulate things."
Well, glad that is settled. There was no clearer example of it in action than on Wednesday night in a game against the Buffalo Sabres and the Boston Bruins. Milan Lucic appeared to score a first-period goal to tie the game 1-1, but it was waved off — Rich Peverley, officials felt, had interfered with Sabres' goalie Ryan Miller.
"I won't lie," Montreal goalie Carey Price told to NBC Sports during the NHL All-Star Game, seconds after a reflexive glove save left Ottawa's Jason Spezza chuckling in disbelief and NBC's announcers remarking that they wished there was a way Price could see what he looked like while flashing the leather. "I was checking myself out on the big screen."
In his 42 starts, Jonathan Quick has given up an average of 1.93 goals per game, making him one of just four NHL goaltenders with a GAA below two. Unfortunately, he's been having this All-Star season behind the league's lowest-scoring team, the L.A. Kings. Quick leads all netminders in shutouts, blanking his opponents six times. In the other 36 games he's played, though, the ones where he's let even just one measly goal trickle past, Quick has come away with a loss 21 times.
Last week, I watched losses no. 20 and no. 21 at Staples Center, where the atmosphere remains vibrant even as the team's offense has not been. The two games were like so many others the Kings have played this year: On Thursday they lost 2-1 in a shootout to the Calgary Flames, and on Saturday they fell 3-1 to the Colorado Avalanche. In both games, the Kings scored first but were unable to either add insurance goals or regain the lead after their opponents tied the game.
Poor Mike Smith. In two recent games, the Phoenix Coyotes goalie has made saves — one during overtime and one in a shootout — that may well end up on year-end highlight reels. In both cases, though, he didn't get to go home with the win.
When Marian Gaborik, one of the best goal-scorers in the league this season, earned an overtime penalty shot in the New York Rangers' contest against Phoenix last week, it seemed like the game might be over. But Smith's improbable stick save kept hope and the game alive — for a short while, at least. (The Rangers ultimately won in the sixth round of a shootout.)