NHL Handicapping: Goalies to Keep an Eye On
by Trevor Whenham - 11/11/2013
There isn’t a single player in any major North American team sport who has more of a direct impact on the outcome of a game than a goaltender in the NHL. An amazing effort in net can turn an average or even poor performance from a team into a win. Shaky goaltending, on the other hand, can transform an outstanding team outing into a loss.
Because of the importance of goaltenders, handicappers need to pay close attention to the position so they can accurately assess what can be expected. Now that we are about 20 percent of the way through this NHL season, we have a sense of where goalies are at for this year — in some cases, at least. Here are seven key goaltender situations to keep a close eye on because they are potentially fluid and because they could create some real value for handicappers who can accurately predict how they turn out:
Semyon Varlamov, Colorado Avalanche: The Avs have gotten off to a very surprising 13-2 start, and Varlamov, with an 8-2 record, a 2.10 goals-against average, and a stellar .933 save percentage, is a big part of the reason for the success. He is playing well beyond the level he has been at throughout his career, so even in normal circumstances we would have to question if his play was sustainable. This is not a normal circumstance, though. The Avs are overachieving and are likely to come back to Earth in front of the goalie. More significantly, Varlamov has been arrested for domestic assault. He has returned to action, but it will obviously be a distraction. In his last outing against Phoenix, he showed his first flashes of mortality with five goals allowed. Varlamov is going to be worse going forward than he has been up to this point — that’s almost inevitable. But how much worse?
Martin Brodeur, New Jersey Devils: Perhaps the greatest goalie of all time, Brodeur is a living legend that still plays at a legitimate NHL level at 41 years of age. His Devils are not currently a contender, though, and that’s not likely to change any time soon. The team grabbed their goalie of the future, Cory Schneider, in a shocking trade with the Canucks last summer. Brodeur will never be traded unless he chooses to, but he has made rumblings that he could waive his no-trade clause, try new surroundings, and let his beloved Devils acquire assets for the future to help with rebuilding. I’m not convinced it will happen, but if it does it would set off a frenzy in the media, and the betting public would react very dramatically. It’s a situation to watch.
Josh Harding, Minnesota Wild: Harding has been quietly spectacular in Minnesota this year. He’s at the top of the pile statistically with a microscopic 1.22 GAA and .947 save percentage, and he already has two shutouts in 14 games. He’s a quality goalie, but he’s not this good. How long can he sustain it? How far back will he fall when he does fall? Will he remain the clear first choice in Minnesota, or will he eventually move into a platoon of sorts with Niklas Backstrom? Sustainable? Can he get better in shootouts? Another big focus has to be the shootout. Harding has been just lousy in limited tries — his .429 save percentage in the shootout is well below expectations and could cost his team going forward.
James Reimer and Jonathan Bernier, Toronto Maple Leafs: There is the old saying that if you have two starting goalies you don’t have any. That’s a bit of a stretch, but I am not at all a fan of a platoon at the NHL level. Toronto is essentially platooning their two goalies at this point — Bernier has made 11 appearances, and Reimer has eight. Can they continue to co-exist peacefully and happily while splitting playing time when each is more than capable of being a No. 1? Will one emerge as the clear starter and get the bulk of the time? If one guy does emerge but then struggles, how quickly do the fans call for a change? How patient can the coaching staff be? Lots of questions here.
Jimmy Howard, Detroit Red Wings: The Red Wings have what it takes to be a pretty solid contender in their new home in the Eastern Conference. Where there are real questions, though, is in net. Howard is the clear No. 1, having appeared in 14 of 19 games. He just hasn’t been that good, though. His .911 save percentage is just 27th in the league, and his 2.74 GAA is well below elite in this NHL era. Can he improve? Is he good enough for this team to contend if he doesn’t? Will Jonas Gustavsson take on a bigger role going forward?
Ilya Bryzgalov, Edmonton Oilers: The Oilers have been really lousy this year for a whole lot of reasons, but the almost impossibly bad play of Devan Dubnyk — .878 save percentage and 3.82 GAA — has been a big part of it. Desperate for a change, they made a trade to free up the cap space to sign Bryzgalov. The last time we saw him he was getting bought out of a massive contract by Philadelphia, and his lousy attitude was a big part of the reason. When he is on his game, though, he is effective — and would certainly be a major upgrade from the awful Dubnyk. Will Bryzgalov have his head in the right place? Will he make a difference for this reeling Oilers squad? How much of an impact?
Read more articles by Trevor Whenham
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