How Some NHL Teams Are Finding Success Following an NFL Trend
The NHL has seen quite a few significant changes over the past few decades. With the game becoming faster and players finding success in the speed of the game, the NHL is constantly getting a makeover that has seen proven results.
Similarly to the NHL, the NFL has been going through changes that are both controversial and necessary, but there has been a not so controversial change that the NHL may or may not realize they are mirroring. For those fans that play fantasy football, you may understand what I am talking about.
More and more NFL teams are switching to a committee situation in their backfield by keeping more than one viable option at the running back position. Although it is hotly debated as to whether it works, many teams are finding success and are finding that their stars are living longer in the NFL. Teams like the Jets, Panthers, Giants and even the San Francisco 49ers lately are switching to the committee approach.
During the 2012 NHL Winter Classic, the Philadelphia Flyers showcased their backup goaltender, Sergei Bobrovsky. While it is clear that there have been some issues with their $51 million starter, Ilya Bryzgalov, the Flyers, as well as other teams, are slowly beginning to realize that having a viable option as a backup will yield dividends in the long run.
There are a number of NHL squads that have turned to a similar committee approach and it is proving successful for a number of reasons. The most obvious reason is that it allows the starter to rest and it will allow him to produce deeper into the season when it counts most. Yet, much like in the NFL, a good solid backup offers a change of pace option and keeps opposing teams uncomfortable. When you know your opponent, it is easier to remember how to beat them.
Here is a list of teams that have found success at the backup position throughout the NHL and why it has proven successful for that specific team.
New York Rangers: Henrik Lundqvist and Martin Biron
If you ask me, right now Henrik Lundqvist is the front-runner for the Vezina Trophy in the NHL. It is an arguable point, but King Henrik has been nearly unbeatable as far as starting goaltenders go this season.
Yet, despite his individual performance, Lundqvist is receiving quite a bit of help from his backup in New York, Martin Biron.
This is Biron's second season with the Rangers, but contrary to last season, it seems that head coach John Tortorella is leaning a little bit more on his backup goaltender. He has already started 10 games and posted a record of 7-2-0 with a .923 save percentage and 2.03 goals against average (Hockey Reference). Those numbers are stellar for a backup.
In many cases, some might argue that Biron is effectively creating a goaltending controversy. Yet, it seems evident that the Rangers are quite content, as they should be, with having Lundqvist as their starter.
This approach will pay huge dividends in the long run, as the Rangers are putting themselves in talks as one of the best teams in the Eastern Conference. Their win in the Winter Classic solidified their top spot in the East for the time being and with both goaltenders playing as well as they are, they will stay fresh down the stretch run into the playoffs.
No worries though, Rangers fans, King Henrik will finally have his shot to prove that he truly is a gem once the playoffs come around.
Boston Bruins: Tim Thomas and Tuukka Rask
Everybody knows that Tim Thomas is a special goaltender. His performance in the Stanley Cup Finals last year solidified him as one of the greatest to ever stand between the pipes for the Boston Bruins, and that is saying a whole heck of a lot.
Yet, does everyone know that statistically he isn't even the best goalie on his own team?
That statement can be a little misleading sometimes because often times a backup could start a handful of games and end up with better numbers overall. Yet, when both goalies on any team have over 20 games under their belt, it certainly raises an eyebrow as to what exactly is happening.
Tuukka Rask has arguably been the best backup goaltender in the NHL over the past three seasons. He has effectively split time with Tim Thomas, another contender for the Vezina Trophy this year, and has been consistent between the pipes almost every start he gets.
The Bruins have made it no secret that they are willing to use either goalie on any given night. Rask has played in 13 games this season and has posted an 8-4-1 record with a .945 save percentage while allowing just 1.61 goals against on average, both of which are league-leading numbers. Thomas is not far behind him with a 1.94 goals against average and a .939 save percentage, good for second best in the NHL.
Talk about a conundrum.
Boston has no quarrels with their goalie situation right now, however, as they have been dubbed the best team in the NHL by many experts. They have been on a relentless tear throughout the league, playing long stretches without a loss and bowing down to absolutely no one. It is clear that both goaltenders are solid in net and that no matter who starts, the Bruins have an excellent chance to win.
St. Louis Blues: Jaroslav Halak and Brian Elliot
The St. Louis Blues are the quintessential example of a team that is utilizing both of their goalies.
Brian Elliot, almost a total surprise in the NHL right now, has played 20 games. Jaroslav Halak, the former Montreal Canadiens playoff hero, has played 19.
Talk about an even split.
The Blues are finally finding success after quite a few years playing as a bottom feeder. It is no secret how they are doing it either. St. Louis is third in the league in goals against per game, proving that a combination of defense and excellent goaltending is one key to finding success in the NHL.
Elliot is second in the NHL behind Tuukka Rask in goals against average, posting a 1.70 while maintaining a .938 save percentage.
Halak is not necessarily doing as well, but is still holding his own when given the chance. His goals against average stands at 2.32 and his save percentage is a respectable .907.
If St. Louis is going to continue their success and finally make it back to the playoffs, they will have to continue utilizing both of these netminders in a fairly balanced fashion. They need to be wary of overplaying Elliot and allowing him to feed his ego. This season has by far been the best of Elliot's career, so wherever he is finding his inspiration from, the Blues need to keep it.
Goaltending could be their only hope come playoff time.
Vancouver Canucks: Roberto Luongo and Cory Schneider
While others may think that the Canucks have a bad situation on their hands, I would argue otherwise.
Vancouver drafted Cory Schneider in the first round of the 2004 NHL draft, and with the acquisition of Roberto Luongo from the Florida Panthers in 2006, Schneider has never really gotten the chance to develop into the Canucks starter.
Of course, there never seemed to be a need for Schneider to be the starter.
Last season, there was never a doubt in anyone's mind who the clear cut netminder for the Canucks was, and there shouldn't be any doubt in their minds now. However, for Vancouver, they have finally realized that they have some serviceable talent that has been sitting on their bench all this time.
With Vancouver's slow start and Luongo's subsequent lacking play, Schneider was finally given the opportunity to showcase his talents and took his chance seriously. So far this season, Schneider has posted a 2.15 goals against average and a .931 save percentage, helping Vancouver climb back to the top of the Western Conference standings.
Roberto Luongo took the challenge from his backup to heart and found his All-Star form once again. He has since been on the rise and his statistics have been improving. He has played 27 games to Schneider's 17 and has regained his confidence between the pipes.
There really is no competition for the starting job in Vancouver. Luongo is the All-Star and Schneider is the backup. Yet, if Schneider can continue to prove his worth, and the Canucks find themselves back in the Stanley Cup Finals once again, the call to start Luongo every game of the playoffs might not be necessary.
Vancouver should be confident that they have a positive situation on their hands rather than listen to the skeptics so often.
Philadelphia Flyers: Ilya Bryzgalov and Sergei Bobrovsky
It may be a bit of a hostile situation in Philadelphia right now because Ilya Bryzgalov is unhappy with his demotion, but if the coaching staff can find a way (and a translator) to explain that they have two viable options in net that can help them, they might find a few more wins late in the season.
The stats don't bode well for either of the Philly netminders right now, but the truth is that both of them are capable of performing when it is their turn.
Bryzgalov is having a tough time understanding that just because he deserves a $51 million contract does not automatically make him a $51 million goaltender night in and night out. If he improves his play, the Flyers could be unbeatable.
Until then, head coach Peter Laviolette has made it clear that he is more than willing to turn to Bobrovsky if Bryzgalov can't perform, and rightfully so. Bobrovsky is no stranger to goalie competition as he was a part of a three-headed debate during last year's playoffs and had his personal ups and downs throughout.
Yet, competition can be good for some players.
It will ultimately be up to the coaching staff to solve this problem. If they can show each goaltender that they both deserve a shot between the pipes, they could improve on their recent play and regain their spot on top of the NHL.
However, if the madness continues, there is no telling how far the Flyers can (and will) fall.
New Jersey Devils: Martin Brodeur and Johan Hedberg
While it may seem like Martin Brodeur is fading out of his 70-game form, it is really becoming a strategical approach to age that he is only starting a little over half of the Devils games this season.
Both Brodeur and Johan Hedberg are approaching 40, but it is clear that both netminders still have some gas left in the tank. The Devils are still in the middle of the pack but have made a surge as of late and are finding themselves pushing for playoff positioning rather than simply pushing for a spot at all.
Statistically, Hedberg is the leader, yet head coach Peter DeBoer has already realized that both goalies are options in net. With a 2.45 goals against average, Hedberg has a slight advantage, but Brodeur has improved lately, posting a 2.85 of his own.
The main reason that this situation really differs from the others described in this list is that both goalies are dealing with wear and tear from long careers in the NHL. It's no surprise as both players have had successful careers, but DeBoer needs to maintain this approach if the Devils want to use either of them in the playoffs this season.
Brodeur may be the perennial All-Star and future Hall of Fame goaltender, but Hedberg is proving that he is a part of the solution for this year's team. Keep an eye on this situation once the playoffs roll around.