On the Hot Seat: The Stretch Drive

Updated: March 7, 2011 at 10:16 am by Alexander Monaghan

On the Hot Seat is a column which will run every other Saturday and will discuss the likely changes between the pipes at the moment. Think of this as a primer that will go over basically any starting goalie position that might be in jeopardy whatsoever.

With a little over five calendar weeks remaining in the season, we bring you a somewhat different edition of On the Hot Seat. At this point in the season most teams know what they are playing for, or not playing for at all with almost no margin for error. We hope to clarify these scenarios while predicting which horse each team will chose to ride down the stretch.

Philadelphia Flyers

The Flyers have split time between Brian Boucher and Sergei Bobrovsky most of the season. As previously explained, Bob never played more than 35 games in a season with only two previous years as a professional starting goalie, none of which in North America. In other words, this rookie is as raw of a talent as you can get and while the team is grooming him for the future, he needs to rest.

Boucher has provided his team with a very solid veteran netminder, sporting a 2.33 GAA and .919 SV%– one point more than Bob. His 26 appearances have helped take a great deal of pressure off of Bob but make no mistake who the team will turn to for the stretch drive. Look for Bob to start eight or nine of the team’s last 10 games as they get him in shape to guide them into a long playoff run.

Boston Bruins

Tim Thomas is the clear-cut contender for the Vezina Trophy but he has began losing starts to his counterpart Tuukka Rask. While we do not think Thomas slows down during the stretch drive, we do think head coach Claude Julien rides the hot hand — which could be Rask at one point.

Thomas slowed down from a heavy workload to decreasing starts by the month, starting eight and nine games in January and February respectively. By comparison, a workhorse like Pekka Rinne got into 11 and 12 games in those months. Once again, we hate to say that such a high-caliber netminder like Thomas will see a decrease in value but want to emphasize how Rask would be a nice pick up. The Finnish sophomore posted excellent statistics last season and even saw back-to-back starts recently.

Washington Capitals

The Caps announced yesterday that Semyon Varlamov will miss the next 7-10 days. This news comes at the wrong time of the year as the talented Russian would likely have seen the brunt of the starts down the stretch in anticipation of starting yet another playoff series. Now, his season lies in jeopardy as Michal Neuvirth or Braden Holtby could take the job and run with it.

Neuvirth has been good, winning his last three starts while allowing only five goals over that span. Similar to the beginning of the year he will get every chance to take over the starting goalie position. If he falters, look for Holtby to get a short look while the team hopes for a healthy Varlamov.

Anaheim Ducks

One simple answer here: Dan Ellis. From bench warmer to starting goaltender, Ellis has a chance to put the Ducks on his back and bring them into the postseason.

The club wants Ray Emery to see more time in the AHL, which will not happen as long as he too warms the bench in Anaheim, while Jonas Hiller seems to have no progress from his sudden bout with vertigo. As our very own Chris Wassel notes via Twitter, vertigo is a very serious condition. It caused Jeff Hackett to retire from the NHL. Look for Ellis to continue to lead this team between the pipes; he may not be an awful add especially with three consecutive wins.

Toronto Maple Leafs

James Reimer is the Leafs’ starting goalie and until they fall out of contention will remain there. Both Jean-Sebastien Giguere and Jonas Gustavsson watch Optimus Reim from the bench as he continues his torrid pace. By playing in his 21st game, he now finds himself amongst qualified leaders with his .929 SV% tied with Pekka Rinne for second in the League. While we do not think it stays so high, we in no way wish to discount his time in the limelight.

Gustavsson may not get another start this year while Giguere is likely itching to get back between the pipes. However, neither netminder brings the same dynamic ability and therefore will not get more playing time.

New Jersey Devils

Johan Hedberg played incredibly well by winning seven consecutive games followed by a tough 2-1 loss to the Tampa Bay Lightning. Thanks for the hard work Johan, now sit back on the bench.

Enter Hall-of-Famer Martin Brodeur, who once again will try to put his Devils team on his shoulders. Make no mistake, this is Brodeur’s team and he will resume his duties as the starting goalie. If the Devils do make the playoffs, it will be with him between the pipes. To his credit, he has won nine of his past 10 starts with no signs of slowing down. This performance is vintage Brodeur and that guy does not take time to rest.

Colorado Avalanche

With Brian Elliott the only signed goalie on the Avs’ NHL roster, they probably keep riding him. Since coming to the Avs, Elliott has started three of four games, sitting only the second of back-to-back tilts.

In Colorado, his numbers have somewhat improved with Elliott’s save percentage ranging from .839 to .971. Could he be turning his career around in Colorado or are the Avs simply re-learning how to play defense? While time will answer that question, expect Elliott to get an extended look during the team’s remaining 18 games; starting tonight.

Edmonton Oilers

Honestly, this situation has been a bit of a mystery to me all season.

Devan Dubnyk has played well above his expectations, earning a 9-9-6 record with an above average .911 save percentage. However, for some reason he continues to succeed starts to Nikolai Khabibulin, who has been simply atrocious this season. In addition, Martin Gerber has even stepped up when Khabibulin went down and player better than both ‘tenders yet he gets banished to Oklahoma City. Expect this weird situation to just continue in Edmonton.

We hope you enjoyed our segment on starting goalies and fending off their backups as much as we enjoyed writing it.  If there are glaring omissions such as the awesomeness of Cory Schneider or your love affair for Marty Turco, let your voice be heard in the comments. Regardless, make sure to take all of the advice in and continue to check our renowned starting goalies section, which is updated all day until game time.

Anaheim Ducks, Boston Bruins, Brian Boucher, Brian Elliott, Colorado Avalanche, Dan Ellis, Devan Dubnyk, Edmonton Oilers, James Reimer, Jean-Sebastien Giguere, Johan Hedberg, Jonas Gustavsson, Jonas Hiller, Martin Brodeur, Martin Gerber, Michal Neuvirth, New Jersey Devils, NHL starting goalies, NIkolai Khabibulin, Peter Budaj, Philadelphia Flyers, Ray Emery, Semyon Varlamov, Sergei Bobrovsky, Starting Goalies, Toronto Maple Leafs, Tuukka Rask, Washington Capitals