Ranking the NHL's 10 Best Goalie Tandems
A strong goaltending tandem can be a crucial part of an NHL team's success. With the 2020-21 regular season compressed into a tight 56-game schedule because of the COVID-19 pandemic, having two capable goalies could be more important than ever.
Every team has a starting goaltender who plays most of the games and is supported by a reliable backup. A good example is the Tampa Bay Lightning duo of Andrei Vasilevskiy and Curtis McElhinney. For the purpose of this ranking, however, we're focusing on duos that have a history of splitting their duties more evenly or are expected to do so this season.
Some tandems, such as Tuukka Rask and Jaroslav Halak of the Boston Bruins, are entering their third season. Meanwhile, teams like the Montreal Canadiens and Vancouver Canucks made changes in the offseason. The Canadiens acquired Jake Allen to ease starter Carey Price's heavy workload. Meanwhile, the Canucks signed Braden Holtby to replace Jacob Markstrom, who signed with the Calgary Flames.
Here's our ranking of this season's best NHL goalie tandems. It is based on expectations entering this season rather than their play just two weeks into the year. Experience, performance and years together factored into the evaluation.
10. Braden Holtby and Thatcher Demko, Vancouver Canucks
The goaltending of Jacob Markstrom played a significant role in the Vancouver Canucks' qualification for the 2020 playoffs. But after he signed with the Calgary Flames in the fall, the Canucks turned to former Washington Capitals netminder Braden Holtby and the promising Thatcher Demko.
It remains to be seen, however, whether they can form a strong goaltending duo.
Holtby, 31, is a one-time Vezina Trophy winner (2016) who backstopped the Capitals to the 2018 Stanley Cup. He struggled during his final two seasons with Washington and lost the starter's job to Ilya Samsonov. Signed by the Canucks in October, he should provide veteran stability between the pipes if he can regain his once-stellar form. If he doesn't, the Canucks could be in trouble.
Demko was inconsistent in a backup role last season. But taking over for an injured Markstrom in the second-round series against the Vegas Golden Knights, his outstanding performance helped extend the series to seven games before Vegas advanced.
Nevertheless, the 25-year-old Demko hasn't established himself at the NHL level. He must prove that postseason effort wasn't a fluke.
9. Pekka Rinne and Juuse Saros, Nashville Predators
The Nashville Predators have been blessed with solid goaltending for years. Their tandem of Pekka Rinne and Juuse Saros has been together since 2016-17. They've been among the league's best for some time, backstopping the Predators to the Stanley Cup Final in 2017.
However, the duo enters this season hoping to bounce back from a shaky 2019-20.
Rinne had enjoyed 12 strong seasons as the Predators' No.1 goaltender prior to 2019-20. A three-time Vezina Trophy finalist in 2011, 2012 and 2015, he took home the award in 2018. However, he struggled through a career-worst performance last season, sporting an ugly 3.17 goals-against average (GAA) and .895 save percentage (SP). The 38-year-old appears to be approaching the end of his playing career.
Saros, 25, appeared in more games than Rinne for the first time last season. However, his GAA (2.70) and SP (.914) were worse than his career averages. He must do better this year if he hopes to finally establish himself as the aging Rinne's heir apparent.
8. Darcy Kuemper and Antti Raanta, Arizona Coyotes
The strong goaltending of Darcy Kuemper and Antti Raanta put the Arizona Coyotes in a position to qualify for last summer's return-to-play tournament. With those two and call-up Adin Hill, they finished with the NHL's fourth-best (2.61) goals against per game despite giving up the ninth-most shots against per game (32.4).
Whether Kuemper and Raanta can do it again this season, however, is another matter.
Kuemper was in the running for the Vezina Trophy last season until a lower-body injury sidelined him for 28 games. His outstanding performance in the 2020 qualifying round carried the overmatched Coyotes past the Nashville Predators before they fell to the Colorado Avalanche in the next series.
However, the Coyotes must do more this season to reduce the 30-year-old's workload or risk burning him out before the playoffs.
Raanta, 31, was considered the Coyotes' starter when they acquired him from the New York Rangers in 2017. Frequently sidelined by injuries, he's now Kuemper's understudy. He's a fine backup when healthy, but his injury history suggests Arizona shouldn't lean on him too much throughout the season.
7. Ben Bishop and Anton Khudobin, Dallas Stars
The Dallas Stars' tandem of Ben Bishop and Anton Khodubin has been among the NHL's best over the previous two seasons.
Bishop is a three-time Vezina Trophy finalist, and the most recent nod came in 2018-19. Khudobin filled in for the sidelined starter during the 2020 playoffs, carrying the Stars to their first Stanley Cup Final appearance in 20 years.
It's questionable how effective Bishop will be this season. The 34-year-old netminder has been plagued by various lower-body injuries throughout his career, and the knee injury that sidelined him during last year's playoffs and required surgery in the fall will keep him out of the lineup until late March.
Khudobin, 34, split the goaltending duties with Bishop almost evenly over the previous two seasons, and he was outstanding during the Stars' run to the 2020 Stanley Cup Final. However, he will be under pressure to repeat his playoff heroics until Bishop returns. If he falters, the Stars could struggle to stay in postseason contention.
6. Alexandar Georgiev and Igor Shesterkin, New York Rangers
The solid performance of Alexandar Georgiev and Igor Shesterkin last season prompted the New York Rangers to buy out the contract of aging longtime starter Henrik Lundqvist. Both goaltenders are in their mid-20s, and they have the potential to form a strong tandem for years.
Georgiev started last season as Lundqvist's backup but outperformed King Henrik, finishing with 17 wins in 34 games played and a .910 save percentage with two shutouts. That performance earned him a new two-year contract with the Rangers.
Shesterkin made a sizzling debut last season, winning 10 of 12 games played with a 2.52 goals-against average and .932 save percentage. The Russian netminder has the talent to become the Rangers' full-time starter and perhaps establish a goaltending legacy of his own on Broadway.
5. Joonas Korpisalo and Elvis Merzlikins, Columbus Blue Jackets
The 2019 departure of longtime starting goaltender Sergei Bobrovsky to the Florida Panthers was supposed to be a serious blow to the Columbus Blue Jackets. However, former backup Joonas Korpisalo and rookie Elvis Merzlikins ensured the Jackets remained a playoff contender.
The 26-year-old netminders should establish themselves among the league's top tandems this season.
Korpisalo spent four years backing up Bobrovsky. He was off to a good start last season until a knee injury sidelined him for 24 games. However, he returned late in the campaign and played well in the 2020 playoffs, finishing with a 1.90 goals-against average, a .941 save percentage and two shutouts.
Merzlikins stepped into the breach when Korpisalo went down and played brilliantly despite his NHL inexperience. He finished the season with a 2.35 GAA and .923 save percentage, leading all rookie goalies with five shutouts.
4. Carter Hart and Brian Elliott, Philadelphia Flyers
After several years of inconsistent goaltending, the Philadelphia Flyers rode the tandem of young Carter Hart and veteran Brian Elliott into second place in the Metropolitan Division last season. They also combined to backstop the Flyers into the second round of the 2020 playoffs.
In 2020-21, this duo will attempt to build upon that promising campaign.
Hart followed up his 2018-19 debut with a solid sophomore performance, winning 24 of 43 games played with a 2.42 goals-against average and .914 save percentage. He outdueled Carey Price to defeat the Montreal Canadiens in six games during their first-round series.
Only 22, Hart has plenty of upside and should continue to develop into a reliable starter for the Flyers.
A former starting goalie, the 35-year-old Elliott has settled well into his role as a backup in Philadelphia. He finished last season with a 2.87 GAA and a record of 16 wins, seven losses and four overtime defeats. He will continue to serve as a mentor for Hart while ensuring the youngster isn't overworked over the course of the season.
3. Robin Lehner and Marc-Andre Fleury, Vegas Golden Knights
A three-time Stanley Cup champion with the Pittsburgh Penguins, goaltender Marc-Andre Fleury was the biggest name selected by the Vegas Golden Knights in their 2017 expansion draft. He became the face of the franchise through their first two seasons.
However, his struggles last season prompted management to acquire Robin Lehner from the Chicago Blackhawks at the trade deadline.
A winner of the Bill Masterton Memorial Trophy and a Vezina Trophy finalist in 2018-19 with the New York Islanders, the 29-year-old Lehner is in the prime of his career. He played well for the Golden Knights last year, getting most of the starts in the playoffs.
Fleury's relegation to backup duty during the postseason didn't sit well with his agent, Allan Walsh, sparking rumors that the 36-year-old would be traded following the playoffs. Cooler heads prevailed, however, and Fleury and Lehner will share the duties this season. They could become a formidable goaltending duo.
2. Carey Price and Jake Allen, Montreal Canadiens
Montreal Canadiens goaltender Carey Price is among the NHL's elite players at the position. Now in his 14th season, the longtime Habs starter topped last season's NHLPA player poll, which cited his "poise, consistency, excellence and focus," as the league's best goalie. The winner of the Hart Memorial Trophy and Vezina Trophy in 2014-15, he is fourth among active goalies with 350 career victories.
The Canadiens' lack of a dependable backup through most of Price's career has left him with a heavy workload. Between his debut in 2007-08 and last season, he played the third-most games (682) among NHL goalies. Hoping to ease the 33-year-old's burden, Canadiens general manager Marc Bergevin acquired Jake Allen from the St. Louis Blues in September.
A former starter with the Blues, Allen spent the past two seasons backing up Jordan Binnington. The 30-year-old netminder finished 2019-20 with a record of 12 wins, six losses and three overtime losses, a 2.15 goals-against average and .927 save percentage.
He and Price have the talent and experience to form one of the league's best tandems this season.
1. Tuukka Rask and Jaroslav Halak, Boston Bruins
Now in their third season as the Boston Bruins' goaltending tandem, Tuukka Rask and Jaroslav Halak are a splendid duo between the pipes. They were awarded the William M. Jennings Trophy last season for the fewest goals allowed (167) in the regular season.
The veteran netminders should be considered the leading contenders to also finish as this season's top goalie pairing.
Winner of the Vezina Trophy in 2013-14, the 33-year-old Rask was a finalist for the award last season with a 2.12 goals-against average, .929 save percentage and five shutouts. His departure during the 2020 Stanley Cup playoffs for personal reasons was keenly felt by the Bruins, contributing to their second-round elimination by the Tampa Bay Lightning.
Halak, 35, has been a solid backup for Rask, splitting the goaltending duties almost evenly with the Bruins' starter. He finished last season with a 2.39 GAA and a .919 SP but struggled to replace Rask in the postseason. Nevertheless, he remains a reliable regular-season understudy, ensuring Rask will be well-rested and ready for the playoffs.